USDA Urged to Toughen Penalties for Humane Slaughter Violations

Friday, October 1, 2010

Washington, D.C. -- A new report by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) - Humane Slaughter Update: Comparing State and Federal Enforcement of Humane Slaughter Laws - indicates that, more than two years after the shocking depiction of inhumane practices at the Westland-Hallmark slaughter plant in California, enforcement of humane slaughter laws has increased at both the state and federal levels, but remains inconsistent and low in comparison with other aspects of food safety inspection. Furthermore, application of weak penalties (including typical plant suspensions of one day or less) is insufficient to deter repeat violators from continuing to commit inhumane acts.

AWI conducted the review, which was performed by analyzing data received through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, to judge the effectiveness of measures taken in the aftermath of the Westland-Hallmark incident, where workers were observed kicking, shocking and abusing animals too sick or injured to walk into the slaughterhouse. While federal suspensions for humane slaughter violations increased 7-fold after Westland-Hallmark, AWI found that the 15 federal food safety districts varied widely in application of humane slaughter laws. And, although state-level enforcement was up as well, some states offered no evidence of enforcing the law. Overall, federal inspectors were shown to be four times more likely than inspectors in state plants to take serious action in response to an egregious humane infraction.

Earlier this month, AWI presented a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) describing how the agency can prevent future animal abuse in American slaughterhouses by implementing a few relatively simple and inexpensive reforms. First and foremost, AWI is recommending stronger penalties, including substantially longer suspensions and more frequent withdrawal of inspection, for slaughter plants that repeatedly violate humane slaughter laws.

“We have slaughter plants that are still operating after three, four and even five suspensions within a one-year period,” said Dena Jones, farm animal program manager for AWI. “Apparently shutting down a plant for a day or less isn’t enough of a deterrent to prevent repeat violations.” AWI is recommending that a second suspension result in removal of inspection for no less than 30 days and retraining of staff in humane handling and slaughter practices, and a third suspension result in withdrawal of inspection service for a period of at least three years.

In addition to stronger penalties, AWI is requesting USDA develop procedures for referring willful acts of animal cruelty to state law enforcement for prosecution, and that the agency work toward greater consistency among state-level humane slaughter enforcement programs. AWI is also urging USDA to post enforcement records on its website. “Making humane handling records available would not only assist the public in making more informed choices about the foods they purchase and consume but would encourage compliance by individual slaughterhouses with humane laws,” said Jones. Until USDA makes these records readily accessible to the public, AWI will post documents received through FOIA on its website at www.awionline.org/humaneslaughterviolations.

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Media Contact:
Dena Jones, AWI, (202) 446-2146 or dena@awionline.org