I have observed that very small plants are usually more variable in humane slaughter practices than the larger plants. Over the years, I have visited small plants that were either excellent or awful. This may be due to the attitude of the owner. In a very small plant, the owner would have a greater impact on operations. The GAO report also indicated that inconsistency problems were more severe in small plants. The report made it clear that inspectors need more training in humane-slaughter enforcement. A random sampling of inspectors in charge at 257 federally inspected slaughter plants indicated that 45 percent of the inspectors reported needing more training in determining insensibility, while 60 percent wanted additional training in electric prod use.
The inspectors were also provided with examples of handling and stunning problems and asked to state their regulatory action. Electric prodding of an animal in the rectal area is an act of abuse according to the American Meat Institute guidelines. The responses from the inspectors are in Table 1. The reliability of the data in the GAO report is high because 93 percent of the inspectors responded.
Better training needed
The recent directive on the use of numerical scoring for the Humane Slaughter Act enforcement is a positive step. Numerical scoring using the AMI guideline criteria will reduce subjectivity. However, the inspectors will still need guidance on appropriate enforcement actions. The most troublesome area is defining egregious acts of abuse where a plant is forced to shut down and inspection is suspended. This is where clearer guidance is needed. One problem area is determining what constitutes beating an animal. One plant was shut down after an argument about when tapping a pig with a paddle becomes beating it. The only way to effectively train inspectors would be to have a video that shows both tapping, which is acceptable, and beating, which is egregious abuse.
There is plenty of undercover footage that could be used for the beating video. Beating footage could also be obtained by having people hit cardboard boxes and then have a panel of experts determine when tapping becomes beating. Another big problem area is determining insensibility.
Some inspectors still mistakenly use kicking as an indicator of a sensible animal. This is wrong. An animal can still kick after the head is removed. A pinprick to the nose is an excellent way to determine insensibility. One inspector was so misinformed recently that he wanted to penalize a plant for egregious animal abuse for poking insensible and unconscious pigs on the nose. The plant was doing this to ensure they were insensible before they were scalded. More training is obviously needed.
Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.