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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tightening Slaughter Rules for School Lunches

There’s good news for our continuing efforts to fortify enforcement and crack down on inhumane practices at slaughter plants. The Agricultural Marketing Service, the division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that buys meat for the National School Lunch Program, just announced that it will strengthen its humane handling audits for the slaughterhouses that supply it with meat.

During these audits, AMS inspectors monitor the compliance of their suppliers with a humane handling checklist. Previously, suppliers could pass the audit despite improperly stunning up to five out of every 100 animals, or allowing one out of every 500 cattle, or one out of every 1,000 pigs, to regain consciousness during the slaughter process. Under the new policy, AMS will have a zero tolerance policy on both points—meaning that a single mis-stunning or case of an animal regaining consciousness will result in an automatic audit failure.

The-National-School-Lunch-Program1
Photo: USDA via Flickr

AMS is also strengthening its cooperation with the Food Safety Inspection Service, the USDA division charged with enforcing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Under AMS’ new guidelines, whenever FSIS cites a slaughter plant for a missed stun or for allowing an animal to regain consciousness following stunning, AMS will immediately audit the plant. AMS auditors will also now inform FSIS of all their audit findings to make it easier for FSIS inspectors to crack down on inhumane slaughter practices. And AMS will inform the public of its audit results, so that there’s an additional level of transparency to hold slaughterhouses accountable. Those audit results are available here.

This is a welcome announcement by USDA and a sign of strong leadership by new AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo and her team. As a main purchaser of meat products for federal programs, AMS has a major role to play in working with its suppliers and helping to shape the marketplace on important animal welfare issues. For example, AMS banned the purchase of beef from downer cows for the National School Lunch Program in 2000, several years before the USDA prohibited the processing of all downer cattle at federally-inspected slaughter plants and required these sick and injured animals to be put out of their misery and kept out of the food supply.  

Of course, we’ve still got work to do to reduce the suffering of animals in slaughter plants across the country. In the short run, we hope that FSIS will soon issue a proposed rule to close the downer calf loophole, which allows slaughter plants to hold veal calves too sick and injured to walk in prolonged suffering. In the longer run, we remain committed to seeing the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforced strongly to protect all animals—including the chickens and turkeys who make up 95 percent of the animals slaughtered for food each year. We are pleased to see USDA taking positive steps on animal welfare enforcement, and express our gratitude to the administration.

 

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