The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has issued a directive with new instructions to its inspectors that will better ensure the humane treatment and slaughter of livestock presented for processing at FSIS-inspected facilities. FSIS will train its personnel to ensure they are prepared to carry out these new instructions.

The directive provides new instructions for inspection program personnel to ensure that treatment of livestock during handling and slaughter minimizes the animal’s amount of excitement, pain, injury or discomfort. Notably, this directive includes a definition for "egregious inhumane treatment". According to the new directive, an egregious situation is any act or condition that results in severe harm to animals, which includes the excessive beating or prodding of disabled livestock, stunning animals and allowing them to regain consciousness, or any treatment causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

Officials from the American Meat Institute responded to the new FSIS directive. "It is important that the government and the industry work in a collaborative fashion on the important effort to ensure sustained welfare improvements," said AMI Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel Mark Dopp: "We hope the directive will provide clarity surrounding the agency's expectations for humane slaughter issues."

"Recognizing the challenges inherent in handling livestock of all different breeds and temperaments, we appreciate that the directive encourages inspectors to look at a plant's animal handling program and track record in humane handling when contemplating regulatory action," added Dopp. "Since the early 1990s, the meat industry has been a leader in developing humane handling best practices, engaging in a number of voluntary initiatives that include enhanced animal handling training, implementation of voluntary guidelines and the use of self-audits to assess welfare and maintain continuous improvement."

During the past two years, FSIS has implemented a number of measures to strengthen humane handling enforcement. On Dec. 22, 2010, FSIS issued new instructions to its inspectors to condemn and promptly euthanize all non-ambulatory mature cattle. On March 14, 2009, the USDA issued a final rule to amend Federal meat inspection regulations to require a complete ban on the slaughter of non-ambulatory cattle for use in human food.

"USDA is deeply committed to ensuring the humane treatment of livestock at federally-inspected establishments," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "We are honoring that commitment with clear guidance and better training for our inspection program personnel."

For more information on Directive 6900.2, contact FSIS’ Office of Policy and Program Development at (202) 205-0495.

Source: USDA, AMI