Citing over 60,000 notes and letters received regarding the Hallmark-Westland animal cruelty video, a USDA spokesman gave assurance Thursday that the agency will be more stringent in surveillance and issuing plant suspensions.

The comments were made at the American Meat Institute Foundation animal care and handling conference held in Kansas City.

“We have suspended operations at 65 slaughter plants,” says Kenneth Petersen, USDA assistant administrator, Office of Field Operations. “Twelve of those suspensions were for egregious humane animal handling violations. While it’s not a huge number, it is a number that is troublesome.” He went on to explain that most of the 12 suspensions for animal handling violations were small or very small plants.

In the nation’s 900 slaughter plants, USDA has issued about 700 non-compliance records for some type of humane animal handling non-compliance. “That’s out of roughly 130,000 total non-compliance records we issued nationally,” says Petersen. “While the 700 non-compliance records issued for animal handling is a small number in the big picture, it is an opportunity for us to be very attentive to what’s going on.”

“Of those roughly 700 humane animal handling non-compliance records issued, I do believe some of them should have resulted in a direct suspension of operations,” Petersen said. “I can assure you that if egregious humane animal handling infractions occur in the future, we will suspend that plant because that is the appropriate thing to do.”

Petersen concluded his statement adding, “on-going close attention to humane animal handling practices will serve your customer well and will serve you well.”