FSIS Notice on Humane Handling and Slaughter – Is it Worth the Hassle?

CowsBy Chris Young, Executive Director

This notice provides instructions to FSIS Public Health Veterinarians (PHVs), inspection program personnel (IPP) and District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMSs) about assessing and informing official livestock establishments whether their written systematic approach for humane handling and slaughter meets the criteria for being a robust plan or not. This notice also indicates the expected frequency for PHV and DVMS verification reviews of an existing robust systematic approach to humane handling and slaughter.
In 2004, FSIS recommended that establishments develop and implement a systematic approach for humanely handling and slaughtering livestock by effectively addressing the four aspects of a systematic approach; those are: assessment, design, evaluation and response.
The industry was told that if we developed and implemented a robust systematic approach then this would be taken into consideration along with other factors when deciding whether to issue a Notice of Suspension (NOS) or Notice of Intended Enforcement (NOIE) action. Experience tells me that this has not been the case. The over enforcement and inconsistency of enforcement of humane handling and slaughter regulations over the last few years has been an ongoing issue for processors. This issue will be at the forefront of AAMP’s efforts in Washington in 2017 once the dust settles on the transition of a new administration. The enforcement of humane handling has been all over the spectrum, and not just between districts, but also within districts. It appears that there are different sets of rules depending on where you are in the country. One district may receive an NOIE and under the same set of circumstances may receive a Notice of Suspension in another district.
If having a robust humane handling program is recommended and not a requirement, and there does not appear to be any difference in the level of enforcement between those who have and those who don’t, why would you open yourself up to the increased scrutiny of this notice? Here is what will be required of you if you choose to have a robust plan. When the establishment management wants to implement an animal-handling program it believes to be a robust systematic approach, it is to request an FSIS review. Once an establishment has a program in place, the associated plan, corrective actions and records produced will be subject to monthly verification reviews by PHVs. DVMSs are to evaluate establishments’ robust systematic approach plans during their Humane Handling Verification visits, which are performed every 12-18 months.
AAMP and its members are fully supportive of humane handling and slaughter regulations. We support having a robust plan in place to make sure we are paying attention to the details and handling animals in our facilities correctly. My opposition to it is that FSIS should get their own house in order and have a clear set of rules and a decision tree in place so that inspectors and DVM’s are responding to incidents in the same way. If a plant has a plan in place and there is a mis-stun and they follow their plan with a follow up stun, then there should be no action taken by FSIS. FSIS cannot continue to enforce from a zero tolerance point of view; that is not reality and they know that, which is why they are requiring a robust plan.
I trust all of our members will continue to do the right thing and handle the animals in their facilities to the best of their ability to ensure a safe, humane kill. A formal response will be sent to Washington explaining AAMP’s position on this and it will be followed by a visit.

1 thought on “FSIS Notice on Humane Handling and Slaughter – Is it Worth the Hassle?

  1. The answer to the question is yes and no. FSIS is tasked with enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter (7 USC 1901 et seq) and Federal Meat Inspection (21 USC 601 et seq) Acts. 7 USC 1902 defines humane slaughter of livestock as (a) rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or gunshot or an electrical, chemical or other means that is rapid and effective or (b) slaughtered in accordance with the ritual requirements of the Jewish faith or any other religious faith. 21 USC 603(b) authorizes FSIS to temporarily suspend inspection if livestock are not slaughtered in accordance with 7 USC 1902 until the establishment furnishes assurances satisfactory to FSIS that all slaughtering of livestock shall be in accordance with 7 USC 1902.

    The USC describes what FSIS has the authority to require. FSIS Directive 6900.2 and FSIS Notice 04-17 describe what FSIS wants, but cannot require.
    The issue is not the FSIS ‘zero tolerance’ stance. 7 USC 1902 sets the standard at “a single blow.” The issue is the requirement to provide ‘assurances satisfactory to FSIS.’ Is attempting to comply with the FSIS Notice on humane handling and slaughter worth the hassle? If you comply in the hope that FSIS will cut you some slack and not suspend inspection, the answer is no. Pandering to the desires of FSIS in the hope that you will receive favorable treatment is not an effective strategy for dealing with FSIS. If you comply because doing so ensures eliminates the risk of suspension, provided that your program demonstrates process control, the answer is yes.

    Your statement calling for FSIS to “have a clear set of rules” speaks to heart of the problem. FSIS needs to clearly define what actions by an official establishment constitute ‘satisfactory assurances’ and this must include actions taken by the establishment to ensure process control before a failure render an animal insensible to pain by a single blow. To date, FSIS has been reluctant to take such action for reasons that are more political and administrative than regulatory. What is required is statutory and regulatory reform. 7 USC 1902 reform to replace the term “single” with language requiring process control. 9 CFR 313 reform defining process control standard for humane slaughter and 9 CFR 500 reform requiring FSIS to provide due process of law before implementing a suspension.

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