Defining 'egregious'

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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FSIS Directive 69002, Revision 2 includes some very good wording that enables inspectors to consider a plant’s prior history when an egregious humane slaughter act violation occurs. The decision on whether or not to suspend inspection or apply some lesser penalty, such as a Noncompliance Record (NR), can be based on whether or not a plant has a “robust systematic approach” to animal handling and stunning. Some of the indicators of a robust systematic approach would be written operating procedures, documented stunner maintenance, training programs, in-house audits, third-party audits and video systems. The new directive also allows the inspector to take into consideration whether or not a plant has a “trend of noncompliance.” This can be taken into consideration when an inspector is making a decision on whether or not to shut down a plant.

There are two really good parts in the directive. It has examples of egregious and non-egregious violations and clearly addresses the fact that not all humane violations are egregious and warrant shutting down the plant. It also addresses the issue of the serious animal welfare problem that can result if a plant is suddenly shut down. A shut down can cause animal suffering due to long lines of trucks waiting to unload. The start of the suspension can be delayed in order to empty out the yards and get incoming trucks unloaded.

There are three levels of humane violations. The first level is “Noncompliance without injury.” An example would be forcing animals to move faster than a normal walking speed. The second level is “Injury or distress, but not of an egregious nature.” An example is a few animals slipping and falling. The third level is “egregious.” An example of an egregious condition was an employee laughing at a pig that was returning to sensibility. Another excellent feature in the directive was providing examples of clearly written reports by inspectors.

Vague wording

Even though the new directive has many good features, it is filled with vague wording. The term “excessive” is used repeatedly throughout the document for providing guidance on the use of electric prods. The term “minimize excitement” is also used. In the definition of egregious, there are some very good, clear examples of egregious acts mixed in with totally vague examples. Some of the very clear egregious examples are:

• Making cuts on, or skinning conscious animals;
• Dismembering conscious animals, such as cutting off ears or removing feet;

Some of the vague, egregious examples are:
• Excessive beating or prodding of ambulatory or non-ambulatory animals;
• Causing unnecessary pain and suffering;
• Stunning of animals and then allowing them to regain consciousness.

Since it is totally impossible to stun every animal perfectly, the directive has wording that allows some discretion on stunning enforcement. In the stunning effectiveness category, the wording is “high degree of accuracy” and “consistently render animals unconscious.”

The parts of the document on religious slaughter and feed and water requirements are very clear. All animals must have water and feed provided after 24 hours. The 28-hour transportation law is also going to be enforced. On religious slaughter, the cutting methods and “intimate” restraint is exempt. However, all the other parts of rules will be enforced, such as no excessive electric prods, water requirements and conditions in the yard. The directive is very clear. “No dressing procedure (e.g. head skinning, leg removal, ears/horn removal, opening hide pattern) is performed until the animal is insensible” in plants conducting religious slaughter.

In conclusion, the new directive is going to provide guidance that is much needed.
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