On the heals of the latest exposé of slaughterhouse cruelty, followed by the largest meat recall in history, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has released a 150-page report authored by Dena Jones analyzing humane slaughter enforcement at state, federal and foreign slaughter plants. Crimes Without Consequences: The Enforcement of Humane Slaughter Laws in the United States reveals an ongoing lack of sound enforcement at plants around the world.
Unfortunately, the horrific treatment that made headlines with the latest recall is nothing new. Not only did roughly 800 separate company recalls take place between Jan. 1, 1994 and Nov. 31, 2007, but cruel treatment of animals has been documented in myriad US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports.
"The hog was lying in the cradle and all four feet had been removed. The hog was observed to be kicking and shaking its head. It exhibited skin twitching and irregular but rhythmic breathing with deep abdominal and thoracic movement. It appeared to be gasping for breath," a USDA inspector wrote about a still-conscious hog at a slaughter plant in Frankenmuth, Mo.
At plants around the country, handling, stunning and slaughter is conducted with little of the needed oversight by federal and state departments of agriculture. Workers who are responsible for ensuring proper treatment of the animals are typically untrained, uneducated and transient. Animals are slaughtered at high speed to maximize profits. And while it is technically banned by federal law, ill and diseased animals may still be sent to slaughter to minimize losses.
Enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act by the USDA is woefully inadequate. Only 42 enforcement actions beyond issuances of deficiency reports for noncompliances were taken in the United States between 2002 and 2005. Whistleblower accounts and undercover documentation suggest the majority of crimes are not observed or recognized by inspection personnel, not reported through the proper channel, or the appropriate remedial measures are not being taken.
All poultry are exempted from current law, an egregious situation that should be rectified by Congress. Though species that are covered by law must be rendered insensible with one stunning attempt before they are killed, industry data itself reveals that this is not the case. American Meat Institute guidelines consider an acceptable pre-slaughter stunning effectiveness rating of 99 percent for pigs and 95 percent for cattle and sheep. The National Chicken Council has set an acceptable stunning standard of 98 percent for chickens. Even if every US plant met these voluntary industry goals, 185 million chickens, 1.8 million cattle and sheep and 1 million pigs would still be killed inhumanely each year.
At the very least, the 10 billion animals killed annually for food in the United States are entitled to a merciful death. AWI calls on Congress to:
- extend the federal slaughter law to include poultry;
- assign a minimum of 50 USDA inspectors the sole task of ensuring the humane handling, stunning and slaughter of animals;
- reject the notion that sound enforcement can be achieved by use of cameras in lieu of inspectors; and
- abandon the notion that industry self-regulation is adequate.
Crimes Without Consequences: The Enforcement of Humane Slaughter Laws in the United States can be viewed online. Print copies will be available from AWI in May for the cost price of $2.00.
In a show ring fad known as short docking, the entire tail of a lamb is cut off purely for cosmetic purposes. AWI Quarterly readers will remember our spring 2007 article that noted scientific research demonstrating an increase in rectal prolapse in sheep who have been short docked. One of the institutions involved in that research, Ohio State University (OSU), is apparently continuing to short dock, despite both its own research and a university policy prohibiting the practice. AWI has received a series of photographs taken this year at the OSU Sheep Center, featuring lambs and ewes who have been short docked. One image clearly reveals a ewe with a repaired prolapse.