WASHINGTON – A petition seeking changes to federal livestock slaughter rules would actually jeopardize humane handling of livestock and animal welfare at meat processing plants, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) said in response to the petition.

A coalition of animal welfare groups on Sept. 2 
petitioned the US Dept. of Agricultureto change policies under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The coalition includes the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Compassion Over Killing, Farm Forward, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The coalition claims the Food Safety and Inspection Service is not meeting its statutory obligations under HMSA. The group based its claims on undercover investigations conducted by animal welfare groups and “every government report that has examined the issue,” the petition states.

To address “lackadaisical” enforcement of humane slaughter rules, the coalition is seeking five revisions to the Code of Federal Regulations.

One proposed change calls for mandatory enforcement standards for Noncompliance Records (NR) and suspensions. For example, multiple stuns would always result in at least a plant suspension.

The petition states that adopting uniform, non-discretionary enforcement rules, such as requiring a suspension for all egregious violations and an NR for all violations regardless of seriousness would address uneven enforcement of handling regulations, minimize the pressure on inspectors to ignore violations and lessen the potential for retaliation against veterinarians and FSIS inspectors.

But NAMI argued that adopting the rule changes requested by the coalition would limit the ability of plants to take action when needed.

“USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service wisely has permitted plants that acknowledge in advance through written plans that some animals, like large bulls or mature dairy cows, may be difficult to stun with a single blow as the law’s language requires,” Mark Dopp, senior vice president of regulatory affairs and NAMI general counsel, said in a statement. “FSIS’ approach also recognizes that livestock don’t always stand perfectly still and human beings charged with stunning and handling can’t executive every movement perfectly 100 percent of the time.

“If the agency is forced to use a regulatory sledge hammer when a plant does the right thing — like double stunning an animal when it appears necessary — it will only mean the wrong thing will happen more often — like failing to ensure an animal feels no pain.”

Dopp went on to say that, for the organizations behind the petition, livestock processing and meat consumption is immoral, and that vision is embodied in the petition — “… a scenario where plants can be shut down permanently and expeditiously.”

“No industry has oversight or continuous inspection like the meat packing industry and while it is our goal to handle the livestock in our care perfectly, we know that’s simply not possible,” Dopp continued. “During the time period detailed in this petition, our industry processed nearly 300 million cattle, pigs and sheep. While we work to ensure optimal welfare, perfection is simply not possible. Still, our overall record is one that reflects a committed, well-regulated and carefully inspected industry.”