As of Jan. 1, 2012, the US Dept. of Agriculture began posting suspensions of plants and Notice of Intended Enforcement (NOIE’s) for violations of humane slaughter regulations. The report is entitled “Humane Handling Enforcement Actions.”

The recent new guidance documents that FSIS has published have had a good affect because the seven plants that have been posted had problems that definitely needed to be corrected. Six out of the seven facilities were very small plants and there was one larger cow slaughter plant. One of the common problems in small plants is lack of knowledge. They sometimes have poor procedures because they do not know any better.

One large plant had a downer, non-ambulatory cow that refused to get up after three applications of an electric prod. When it was prodded, it vocalized loudly. The plant received an NOIE but inspection was not suspended because it had a good history of no prior violations. The inspectors showed sensible judgment by taking the plant’s prior history into account. The plant was able to demonstrate that they had a systematic approach to animal welfare and the problem would not happen again.

Problems with firearms

Three smaller plants I recently visited had problems rendering animals insensible using firearms, resulting in inspection being suspended. Often, the firearm being used is undersized, but the plants use smaller firearms due to safety concerns. A .22-caliber long rifle can kill a dairy cow with a single shot, but it must be perfectly aimed. Most experts agree that a .22 should never be used on bulls or boars. In the first plant, a .22 was used on an unspecified animal and it was shot three times. A 20-gauge shotgun was used for the final effective shot. The inspector should have specified the type of animals because information obtained from these suspension reports can be used to develop reasonable guidelines for firearms. It is important to use the correct firearm and the type of bullets that will do an effective job while minimizing the danger created from bullets passing through the animal.

The second plant was a really bad mess. Ten shots from a .38-caliber pistol failed to render a Yak insensible. A .223-caliber rifle was used for the final shot. Sometimes multiple shots are required when the animals become full of adrenalin. In this case, the heavier rifle should have been used to deliver the second shot. I have visited a plant that processes fed bison and a .357-caliber magnum pistol worked really well.

A third plant failed to render a beef bull insensible with a .40 caliber pistol. A second shot from a .410-gauge shotgun failed and a third shot from the .40 pistol was effective. An autopsy showed that none of the shots penetrated the skull. I wish the report had more detail on the type of bull and the location of the shots.

The last three small plants on the suspension and NOIE report had problems that were more likely due to either poor management or lax supervision of people. In one plant, a truck driver handled lambs roughly, kicked, yelled at them and slammed gates. In another plant, pigs were returning to sensibility after electric stunning. This problem can be easily solved in small plants by reapplying the stunner to the chest after the pig has been rendered insensible by a head stun. The stunner was not described in the report, but most small plants use a head-only electric stunner on pigs. The final plant had an animal get up and walk around after captive bolt.

Some people in the industry are upset about posting plant suspensions. These reports can help the industry solve problems. There is a huge lack of knowledge on effective firearms. The reports can also help protect the industry from a misinformed inspector who shuts a plant down due to a lack of knowledge. Transparency can work both ways, and that is good.