Following the Hallmark/Westland cow-handling debacle in California, and the aftermath that followed, USDA officials said they would step up surveillance activities at other packing plants.
Focusing on animal-slaughtering facilities with a federal food assistance contract, USDA 's Food Safety and Inspection Service set out to audit humane-handling practices at 18 related facilities. As a result, FSIS issued a Notice of Suspension to one packer, non-compliance records to three and a Letter of Concern to another facility.
USDA Secretary Ed Schafer reports that FSIS inspectors visited each of the 18 plants, all slaughtered cattle, to observe the animal-handling programs and practices at each site. Of the sites, 12 slaughter predominantly cull cows or veal calves, six slaughter mostly young market cattle.
The site that received a Notice of Suspension was based on insufficient animal-stunning methods. The procedure failed to render the animal insensible on the initial attempt. That packer corrected the situation, and FSIS auditors held the suspension to further prove it has effectively remedied the problem, reports Meatingplace.com.
The three plants that received non-compliance records, included one for excessively using electric prods on animals, one for overcrowded holding pens and one for excessive animal balking within the stunning area.
The facility that received a Letter of Concern had used a high-powered hose to wash cattle prior to slaughter. While the action is not a violation, auditors emphasized that the process should be changed to avoid undue animal stress or excitement.
Schafer said a review of Humane Activity Tracking System data back to July 1, 2007, found that FSIS inspection program personnel spent an acceptable amount of time on HATS categories, but USDA modified HATS procedures at five establishments to improve FSIS protocols further, including:
increasing the amount of overall time FSIS inspection program personnel spend on HATS tasks
carrying out observations more randomly to confirm humane handling
and increasing the amount of time assessing stunning methods.
"While we don't know the specific situations at the plants involved in this audit, we are encouraged by the findings broadly," Janet Riley, senior vice president for public affairs for the American Meat Institute told Meatingplace.com. "With the exception of the suspension for failing to stun correctly the first time, every time — a standard that is impossible to meet according to experts like Dr. Temple Grandin — the findings in the letter suggest a high degree of compliance and now an even higher degree of federal oversight."