A group of federal meat inspectors are charging that livestock slaughter plants are killing cattle and hogs while the animals are still conscious. Animal-rights groups have joined the inspectors in filing a petition about the issue with USDA, according to a report posted on The Meatingplace.com.

The petition demands that inspectors are stationed full-time in areas where animals are stunned and bled. It says that plant operations should be stopped any time there are violations of humane handling regulations. “The Humane Slaughter Act is not a top priority. It's not a priority at all,” says Arthur Hughes, a spokesman for the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals. Hughes claims that training of new inspectors is so lax that many don't even know the Humane Slaughter Act even exists.

American Meat Institute is calling the petition “unnecessary" and aimed at “attracting publicity for the petitioners' causes.”

“This petition is really about two issues: promoting a vegetarian agenda and perpetuating government jobs,” says J. Patrick Boyle, AMI president.

“The Humane Slaughter Act, is already enforced aggressively in meat packing plants,” says Boyle. “Inspectors are present every moment of operation and are empowered to take action against companies for animal welfare violations.”

The meatpacking industry is “regulated and inspected more aggressively for its animal welfare practices than any other sector of animal agriculture,” Boyle adds. “Humanely treated animals create safer workplaces and better quality meat products. Treating animals with respect is also the right thing to do.”

Officials with the Food Safety and Inspection Service also criticized the petition's content and timing. “FSIS considers enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act to be a high priority, and we absolutely expect our inspectors to enforce the law,” Christopher Church, an FSIS spokesperson, told The Meatingplace.com.

FSIS officials were meeting with representatives of the Joint Council this week, and received no prior notice that the issue would be discuss or that a petition would be filed.

“It was the meat industry's voluntary training and self-auditing efforts that caused animal welfare practices in meatpacking plants to improve dramatically over the last five years,” contends Boyle. “Data collected by USDA and Temple Grandin of Colorado State University stand in stark contrast to the outrageous anecdotes outlined in the petition. It is important to note that the credibility of some of the petitioners is in serious doubt.”

The National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals, representing USDA meat inspectors, has been “locked in a battle with USDA, because it fears incorporating science-based principles into the federal meat inspection system may threaten jobs,” AMI's statement said. “While jobs have changed, none have been lost.”

Source: The Meatingplace.com, American Meat Institute.