In April of all months, “audit” is the last word most Americans want to hear but last month the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was cheering because it passed a very meaningful audit by the Office of the Inspector General. According to the OIG, FSIS is appropriately managing meat and poultry slaughter establishments’ appeals of humane handling enforcement actions.
In December 2010, USDA’s Office of Food Safety proactively asked the OIG to determine whether FSIS addressed these types of appeals in a consistent, timely, and accurate manner. The OIG audit was extensive, covering humane handling appeals filed by the industry over a four-year period from January 2007 to December 2010. Not only did OIG publish positive findings; this is the second time in more than eight years that the OIG has published a final report for FSIS without any formal recommendations.
OIG’s findings indicate that FSIS’ humane handling enforcement is fair and consistent, and that success is due in no small part to federal food safety inspectors’ good understanding of humane handling requirements and what to do when they spot inhumane actions.
Seeing that animals are treated humanely in the establishments we regulate is a responsibility that FSIS takes very seriously. In addition to the audit, we have taken several other steps during the last two years to better ensure humane treatment of livestock at FSIS-inspected facilities. These include hiring a headquarters-based Humane Handling Enforcement Coordinator (the position I now hold) and 23 new in-plant employees who facilitate human handling verification; training inspectors on animal handling from truck unloading to stunning, stunning effectiveness, and post-stunning considerations; encouraging establishments to develop systematic approaches to humane handling; working to create a position for a humane handling Ombudsman in the Office of Food Safety; and providing guidance to industry on voluntary in-plant video monitoring.
A good report from the OIG does not mean FSIS is going to stop making improvements. The audit report can be found on the OIG’s website, and we encourage anyone interested in this particular issue to look for future updates on this blog and to follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/usdafoodsafety.