University of Wisconsin-River Falls announces launch of Humane Handling Institute

UWRF and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection partner on a first-of-its-kind program.
The University of Wisconsin-River Falls (UWRF) and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) have announced the formation of the Humane Handling Institute (HHI). The new program will provide comprehensive hands-on training for current meat industry workers in humane pre-slaughter handling, transport, stunning, and equipment maintenance. The formation of the HHI was announced by the UWRF and the DATCP on October 20. HHI is expected to help improve the long-term viability of Wisconsin's $34 billion livestock and meat industries.

The project is funded by the Meat Talent Development Program, a $5 million program created by Governor Tony Evers to strengthen the state's meat processing supply chain and workforce. DATCP Secretary Randy Romanski joined UWRF administrators and faculty and meat industry representatives on campus to make the announcement.

“Governor Evers' strategic investments continue to create opportunities for growth and resiliency in Wisconsin's meat and livestock industry,” said Romanski. “The HHI will provide one-of-a-kind training to the industry and lead the way for humane handling education across the state and nation. This partnership will support workforce training, create product marketing opportunities, and provide education on regulatory issues for meat processing establishments.”

"I want to thank Governor Evers for establishing this program to aid the meat industry,” said UWRF Chancellor Maria Gallo. “The involvement of our quality faculty in developing the content for this effort will ensure it contains the latest best practices and will be delivered effectively.” 

Kurt Vogel, UWRF associate professor of animal science and director of the HHI, said that the UW-River Falls Animal Welfare Lab has tracked humane handling enforcement actions by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) since 2014. It consistently has identified pre-slaughter stunning as a critical area of need for additional training and development.

“As we started to think through what we could do to fix that problem, this idea of developing a hands-on training center for the industry came into much clearer focus,” he added.

The program will consist of a series of 2.5-day-long workshops. Interested participants can select the workshops that meet their needs or complete the entire series of workshops and an additional project for comprehensive certification. Trainees that complete the series and project will receive a certificate in humane handling and stunning and the limited rights to utilize the program logo in marketing and promotional materials. The five areas of focus are:
  • Transportation, from the farm to the plant
  • Management of livestock and holding pens, including methods of euthanasia within the pens and making determinations of when euthanasia is appropriate
  • Humane handling and stunning, including getting animals to the restraint, appropriately restraining then and effectively stunning them
  • The development of systematic approaches to animal welfare that is part of an effective humane handling plan
  • Maintenance and repair of stunning equipment
Vogel stressed that part of an effective program for the Humane Handling Institute was developing a proper environment for animal handling education; he noted that meat plants are built for efficiency, not for learning.

“Let's get the people that need this training into an environment that is built for teaching—here at our university. Then let's get the right type of situation in front of them where they can really learn and take things in,” he said. So, when it comes time for hands-on training for stunning, there will not be testing on live animals. Instead, UWRF will utilize dummy livestock heads with replaceable brain cartridges that students can use for humane training.

“Our objective here in our Animal Welfare Lab has always been to try to avoid any place where we could cause animal suffering, to the greatest extent we can. And this is another place where I think we can do that, and we can provide some really good training as well,” he said.

Tuition reimbursement will be offered to 120 trainees from small slaughter establishments across the state of Wisconsin for the two workshops that address critical regulatory challenges for these plants, but any current or aspiring staff may enroll in any of the five workshops.

Vogel says that the first class will be offered in the fall of 2023, though he hopeful that the HHI can have a soft opening by the end of spring, 2023. The workshops will initially be available for Wisconsin processors, because the funding has come from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer protection. However, Vogel is hopeful that the program can be made available to a national audience soon.

“We see [DATC funding] as seed funding that helps us to get started,” he explained. “Then, with our proximity to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, our plan is to become a central hub for this really important training.”

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