Report Finds Insufficient Gov't Oversight at Slaughter Plants

In response to the Hallmark-Westland slaughter plant exposé, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG ) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) assessed what had transpired at Hallmark, if it could have been prevented, and whether similar problems exist at other plants. OIG evaluated 10 slaughter facilities which, like Hallmark, kill cull cows (dairy animals who are no longer viewed as productive). Cull animals are oftentimes in a weakened physical condition, and are therefore more susceptible to becoming downed (non-ambulatory).

OIG ’s November 2008 report concluded that Hallmark’s problems, which included the abuse of downed animals by forcing them to stand, and violations of the ban on slaughter of downed animals, were not systemic. However, OIG recommended that the USDA ’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) take 25 steps to improve the agency’s enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Notably, the report concluded that “...there is an inherent vulnerability that humane handling violations can occur and not be detected by FSIS inspectors, because FSIS does not provide continuous surveillance of all operating areas within a slaughter establishment at all times.” Regarding video surveillance, which Hallmark was installing, OIG stated, “...there is no assurance that this would have prevented abuses from occurring.” Further, three of the 10 audited establishments had video monitoring, but FSIS was prohibited access to their systems.

The OIG Report, Evaluation of FSIS Management Controls over Pre-Slaughter Activities, can be accessed at www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/24601-07-KC.pdf.