ADDRESSING issues raised in an Office of Inspector General report earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) introduced a new guidance document to ensure the humane treatment of livestock presented for slaughter.
The document provides a set of practices that will assist FSIS-inspected establishments in minimizing potential animal handling issues.
"We have taken significant measures over the past few years to strengthen our ability to enforce humane handling laws at livestock slaughter facilities nationwide," FSIS administrator Al Almanza said. "This guidance is one example of our commitment to the humane treatment of animals. We continue to implement improvements so that we have the best system possible."
FSIS said as of this year, half of all livestock slaughter establishments have adopted its systematic approach to humane handling, meeting the agency's strategic objective three years ahead of schedule.
The new guidance is a 21-page document designed to support the development of a systematic humane handling operation and further details steps toward developing a robust regime.
"These days, the best programs are designed using this robust, systematic approach," said Norm Robertson, director of regulatory issues at the North American Meat Assn. (NAMA). "In addition to the potential regulatory enforcement benefit, these systems also have the additional benefit of being the best way to run a business."
Robertson said the written procedures and records and FSIS review required in order to be designated as a robust system could lead to additional markets for products as many larger retailers now require such programs as part of purchasing specifications.
The American Meat Institute (AMI) held a special session at its recent Animal Care & Handling Conference geared specifically toward helping smaller processors develop a systematic approach. The organization was still reviewing the FSIS guidance at press time, but a spokesman said the industry is focused on implementing robust, systematic approaches.
Almanza said FSIS is equipping employees to prevent and respond to inhumane handling incidents, delivering "more practical, situation-based humane handling training" to inspectors and veterinarians who are expected to enforce humane handling requirements at slaughter facilities. FSIS also recently created a humane handling enforcement coordinator position that will oversee the agency's implementation and daily enforcement of humane handling regulations.
Both NAMA and AMI have resources available to their members designed to help processors develop and implement a systematic humane handling approach.
The new FSIS guidance is available at the agency's website.