USDA Declines to Improve Slaughter Regulations

At a slaughterhouse in Pennsylvania last year, an employee made three attempts to render a pig unconscious with a rifle, with the animal vocalizing after each shot to the head. The plant did not have an appropriate backup stunning device available, so one of the employees drove to his home to retrieve another rifle, returning 10 minutes later to finally put the animal out of his misery.

In May 2013, AWI submitted a petition to the USDA that reviewed more than 1,000 records of incidents similar in nature—animals suffering because slaughterhouses didn’t have proper procedures in place. (See AWI Quarterly, spring 2017.) The petition provided the department with easy steps to prevent such gratuitous suffering, and requested that it write regulations codifying these steps. For example, AWI asked that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service require slaughterhouses to develop a written systematic humane handling plan, routinely train employees on humane handling, and maintain at least one backup stunning device. The USDA ignored AWI’s petition—until AWI sued the department in December 2016 for its unreasonable delay.

In February, two months after AWI filed its lawsuit, the USDA finally responded, denying AWI’s petition. The denial acknowledged that the USDA has the authority to write regulations to improve handling and slaughter practices, but indicated that the department elects not to do so at this time. Instead, the USDA will continue business as usual: promoting voluntary compliance programs, which have resulted in refinements at some slaughter establishments, but have clearly not fixed the problems (as illustrated by the Pennsylvania incident).

Because the USDA’s response—unsatisfactory as it was—addressed the delay, AWI withdrew its complaint. However, AWI intends to continue to monitor the USDA’s enforcement records and will consider further legal action if these inhumane handling incidents continue. See page 28 for more on AWI’s efforts to decrease suffering at slaughter.