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Highlights

Concerns about the humane handling and slaughter of livestock have grown; for example, a 2009 video showed employees at a Vermont slaughter plant skinning and decapitating conscious 1-week old veal calves. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978, as amended (HMSA) prohibits the inhumane treatment of livestock in connection with slaughter and requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before being slaughtered. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for HMSA. GAO was asked to (1) evaluate FSIS's efforts to enforce HMSA, (2) identify the extent to which FSIS tracks recent trends in resources for HMSA enforcement, and (3) evaluate FSIS's efforts to develop a strategy to guide HMSA enforcement. Among other things, GAO received survey responses from inspectors at 235 plants and examined a sample of FSIS noncompliance reports and suspension data for fiscal years 2005 through 2009.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture 1. To strengthen the agency's oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected facilities, and to ensure that FSIS strengthens its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978, as amended, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FSIS to establish clear and specific criteria for when inspectors-in-charge should suspend plant operations for an egregious HMSA violation and when they should take enforcement actions because of repeat violations
Closed - Not Implemented
The Food Safety Inspection Service has revised FSIS Directive 6900.2, Humane Handling and Slaughter of Livestock, but the revision does not provide clear or specific criteria for when inspectors-in-charge should suspend plant operations and when they should take enforcement actions because of repeat violations.
Department of Agriculture 2. To strengthen the agency's oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected facilities, and to ensure that FSIS strengthens its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978, as amended, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FSIS to identify some type of objective tool, such as a numerical scoring mechanism, and instruct all inspectors-in-charge at plants to use this measure to assist them in evaluating the plants' HMSA performance and determining what, if any, enforcement actions are warranted.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA's Inspectors-in-Charge are not using any objective tools to determine what enforcement actions are warranted. In 2010, USDA's 15 District Veterinary Medical Specialists did begin to use objective scoring, developed by Temple Grandin, to provide an objective measurement to assist in determining the establishment's handling process, but not to help determine what enforcement actions are warranted under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
Department of Agriculture 3. To strengthen the agency's oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected facilities, and to ensure that FSIS strengthens its enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978, as amended, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FSIS to strengthen the analysis of humane handling data by analyzing the narrative in noncompliance reports to identify areas that need improvement.
Closed - Implemented
FSIS strengthened the analysis of humane handling data by analyzing the narrative in noncompliance reports to identify areas that need improvement. Specifically, a workgroup comprised of three District Veterinary Medical Specialists from three regions of the country reviewed 25 percent of all 2010 humane handling noncompliance records. The results of their analysis identified areas related to these records that needed improvement. For example, 4.9 percent of these records were poorly written to the extent that a plant could more easily appeal the action; 27 percent were identified as missing necessary detail, such as time, location, or a clear description of the event; 1.4 percent described an event that was compliant rather than noncompliant with the regulations; and 9 percent indicated that a stronger Regulatory Control Action (to include a suspension) was warranted but not taken.
Department of Agriculture 4. To strengthen the agency's oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected facilities, and to ensure that FSIS can demonstrate how efficiently and effectively it is enforcing HMSA, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of FSIS to develop an integrated strategy that clearly defines goals, identifies resources needed, and establishes time frames and performance metrics specifically for enforcing HMSA.
Closed - Not Implemented
FSIS's 2011-1016 Strategic Plan identifies a strategy with one outcome, measure, and performance target related to humane handling. However, FSIS has not yet identified resource needs related to humane handling. FSIS officials said they are considering identifying resource needs in the future.

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