USDA plans to increase humane handling observation at all federally inspected U.S. slaughter plants. The effort is to determine whether the video from Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. was an isolated incident.
Meatingplace.com reports that USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety Richard Raymond that the increased observation will take place in the next few weeks. The point is to determine whether USDA needs to change its inspection procedures focused on humane handling.
"One things we do need to do is increase our observation of cattle handling in all of the 900 meat slaughter plants, hopefully to determine this was an isolated incident. If it is not, we need to find that out too," he said.
The increased observation will be done by existing plant inspectors, with additional staffing in some cases from district offices to complete the audit. Raymond did not rule out expanding current inspection protocols, but said observing cattle mobility to slaughter would be a daunting task that would require more resources or shifted priorities.
"To visually observe the animals going into the slaughter facility would require full-time staff for every shift that is operating. That will be on the discussion table, but it would require stopping something we are doing now or asking for more resources."
While the media has focused on the fact that some of the recalled meat went to school lunch programs, Raymond said he would not condone special safety requirements for a single program. "My job is to make sure food is as safe as possible for all consumers…We have kids who don't go to school who eat these products. We have the elderly who eat these products. So I can't produce a product I feel is safe for the school lunch program but less safe for the rest."
The Humane Association of the United States has called for real-time video feeds from plants to increase transparency and accountability. Raymond said that transparency is important, but how that transparency occurs will need to be discussed with industry and consumers, in order to identify possible changes.
Raymond said his priority is still on reducing E. coli O157:H7 contamination. USDA is completing the data collected from 2,500 plants last fall. While the final analysis is yet to come, Raymond said based on what he has seen so far, there will likely be some policy and procedure changes.