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An Open Look at How FSIS Enforces the Humane Handling of Livestock

Last week, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service posted on the agency’s web site copies of recent letters that were sent to plants facing enforcement actions for inhumanely treating animals. Posting these humane handling enforcement letters on the web enhances the transparency component of this process and provides the public a clearer understanding of the types of behavior and conditions that warrant enforcement action by FSIS.  This effort is part of a commitment made last year by FSIS to implement new measures to ensure the humane treatment of animals at establishments we regulate.

These letters can be accessed in the agency’s online FOIA reading room and are categorized according to each plant’s designated establishment number, which can be found inside the USDA mark of inspection on food packages at the grocery store. When inhumane handling conditions are encountered, FSIS personnel continue to take action until plant management resolves the problem, often through employee training and facility improvements. Any follow-up correspondence sent to plants also can be accessed in the online FOIA reading room.

Previously, FSIS provided Humane Handling Quarterly Reports online, which included the percentage of procedures that FSIS inspectors and veterinarians found to be non-compliant with humane handling requirements.  The reports also revealed the number of hours the same personnel spent performing humane handling procedures, and the number of plants suspended from production due to humane handling violations.  The quarterly reports still are available online and anyone seeking more specific information still can submit a FOIA request.  However, the posting of these enforcement letters online may reduce that need.

As part of its Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2011-2016, FSIS established a goal of impementing a systematic approach to humane handling at regulated establishments and making FSIS management processes more open. Posting these letters online represents a significant step toward achieving that goal and it discloses to consumers which companies are not meeting humane handling standards.

Our efforts will continue because significant work remains on this issue.  FSIS will continually review and assess our humane handling and slaughter policies and practices to make sure our in-plant personnel possess the tools and resources necessary to perform their duties consistently and in compliance with federal law.

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