Washington, D.C. -- "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 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector wrote about a still-conscious hog at a slaughter plant in Frankenmuth, Mo.
With meat recalls due to bacterial contamination and the horrific handling and slaughtering of downer cows making headlines in recent months, consumers are increasingly aware of some of the problems occurring behind slaughterhouse doors. But new documentation reveals how dire the situation really is. The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has released the first report of its kind to analyze humane slaughter enforcement at state, federal and foreign slaughterhouses.
Drawing from over 1,000 documents obtained from sources including 60 public records requests to federal and state agriculture departments from 2002 to 2007, the report exposes the lack of sound enforcement at plants throughout the United States and across the globe.
"This report shows that enforcement of humane slaughter law is a low priority of the US Department of Agriculture, state agriculture departments, and the U.S. animal agriculture industry as a whole," said author Dena Jones, a consultant to AWI. "Legal and regulatory changes need to be made in the current inspection system to better protect the approximately 10 billion animals killed for food each year in the United States."
Currently, humane slaughter laws require that livestock be rendered insensible with one stunning attempt before they are killed. However, American Meat Institute guidelines consider an acceptable stunning effectiveness rating of 99 percent for pigs and 95 percent for cattle and sheep, while the National Chicken Council has set an acceptable stunning standard of 98 percent for chickens. Even if every single slaughter plant was able to meet these voluntary industry goals, the report notes, 185 million chickens, 1.8 million cattle and sheep and 1 million pigs would still be killed inhumanely each year in the United States.
Little time is actually spent by agriculture department inspectors observing the handling, stunning and slaughter of animals. Nonetheless, the citations recorded by the USDA are disturbing. At a plant in Benton, Ark., an inspector noted, "At approximately 1:00 p.m. [a Holstein cow] had a 1 cm hole in its forehead from a captive bolt stunner. At 1:10 p.m. the cow had not been moved and was breathing regularly. An establishment employee tried to re-stun the animal twice but the hand held captive bolt stunner did not fire."
Between 2002 and 2005, only 42 enforcement actions beyond issuances of deficiency reports for noncompliances with humane slaughter laws were taken in the United States. But whistleblower accounts and undercover videotape documentation from inside slaughterhouses reviewed in the report suggest that the current low level of humane enforcement is not due to a lack of violations. Instead, crimes are either not observed or recognized by inspection personnel, not reported through the proper channel, or the appropriate remedial measures are not being taken.
"USDA inspectors must be present at plants to ensure adherence to basic standards of decency, said AWI President Cathy Liss. "At the very least, animals who are killed for food are entitled to a merciful death."
For a PDF version (150 pgs, 1.4MB) of the report, click here.
- Animal Welfare Institute and Humane Farming Association release video footage entitled "Scenes from USDA Inspected Slaughterhouses"
- Government Report Confirms Slaughter is not Humane - AWI Quarterly
- Groups Say Human Oversight Necessary at US Slaughterhouses - AWI Press Release
Cathy Liss, (202) 446-2121
Dena Jones, (202) 446-2146
For over 57 years, AWI has been the leading voice for animals across the country and on Capitol Hill. AWI promotes humane farming practices and fights the growth of animal factories for the benefit of animals, consumers, farm families, rural communities and the environment. More information is available at www.awionline.org.