40 Years of Failure to Update Humane Slaughter Act Lands USDA in Court

American Welfare Institute Sues USDA for Failing to Update Humane Methods of Slaughter Act for 40 Years

The Animal Welfare Institute is suing the USDA for failing to respond to a petition calling for a Department update of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requiring all slaughter establishments to follow clear animal welfare procedures. This failure to respond constitutes a repeated violation of the Act, according to the Institute.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

“The USDA is shirking its duty as a regulatory agency by refusing to initiate rulemaking to amend the HMSA, particularly when many of the causes of inhumane slaughter are well known and easily addressed,” Dena Jones, the Animal Welfare Institute’s farm animal program director, said in a statement.

The petition was originally sent to the USDA over three years ago, in May 2013, after the Animal Welfare Institute analyzed a sample of 1,000 incidents of inhumane slaughter. This review revealed that the most frequent causes of inhumane incidents were “lack of worker training in humane handling techniques, use of inappropriate stunning devices, improper shot placement, often in connection with inadequate restraint, lack of routine testing and maintenance of stunning equipment, and lack of a backup stunning device,” according to The Pig Site.

“Since the petition was submitted, approximately 2,000 regulatory violations occurred at government-inspected plants that may have been prevented by adoption of the changes requested in the petition,” the complaint read.

The complaint notes that the USDA has not amended the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act since the original regulations were adopted, nearly 40 years ago. Requirements currently covered by the Act include completely sedating the animal before slaughter to the point that no pain is felt, a stipulation that is currently not always met.

The Institute estimates that up to half of inhumane handling violations could be avoided with improvements to these regulations.

The Institute is asking the court to order the Department of Agriculture to respond to the petition within 60 days.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco