It’s been a year since the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) accused the USDA’s food safety division of failing to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act. Now, several organizations are launching a campaign to help enforce the law.
According to last year’s report by the OIG, many USDA inspectors simply do not attempt to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act and many more don’t actually understand the requirements for enforcement.
Bruce Friedrich, director of policy and advocacy for Farm Sanctuary, wrote in a recent op-ed: “Even when OIG inspectors monitored their actions openly, inspectors still did not understand or carry out their humane slaughter mandate.”
In records the Farm Sanctuary obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, there still has been no action taken by the USDA since the OIG’s report was released last year.
“There are literally no inspectors at point of slaughter,” Friedrich told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell in a recent appearance on her show. “It would be like passing a speed limit and announcing that you’re not going to monitor anybody’s speed.”
According to Friedrich, the OIG found that “egregious abuse” and criminal violations are not being cited at all; and warnings still remain the most common actions taken against slaughterhouse workers and facilities when suspensions would be more appropriate for these violations.
“This law was passed more than 35 years ago,” Friedrich told Velez-Mitchell, “and USDA has literally never—not one time—used its criminal enforcement authority to cite one of these plants with a federal crime, even when they document it.”
The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) told Velez-Mitchell’s staff that the agency is “dedicated to ensuring that all animals presented for slaughter at FSIS-inspected facilities are treated humanely…the agency will continue to improve its guidance to ensure the best practices are implemented in establishments.” But animal abuse in slaughterhouse and factory farm facilities are still widespread. A recent investigation by the Humane Society revealed veal calves in New Jersey being abused on the slaughter line.
Friedrich wrote in NewsObserver:
One of the most abusive slaughterhouses in the country sits in Gibsonville, a small town about 60 miles west of Raleigh. Routinely, Matkins Meat plant workers shot animals through the head with rifles or captive bolt guns, causing immense pain to the animals but not rendering them insensible.
As just one example, a cow was shot through the head with a captive bolt and then hoisted into the air, and then her throat was slit – all while she was still conscious. If USDA personnel had not intervened and demanded that plant personnel deliver another captive bolt to the animal’s skull, she would have been skinned and dismembered while still conscious.
According to Friedrich, there are currently no inspectors at the point of slaughter, which is critical to enforcing the law. “USDA can talk a good game but if they don’t have anybody monitoring it’s just words, and it makes the public think that they’re doing what they’re legally supposed to be doing, but they’re not.”
Velez-Mitchell pointed out that the abuses ignored in slaughterhouses would be illegal if done to a dog. "For some reason our society turns a blind eye when it comes to cows, but Americans are decent people; they are changing,” she said.
Farm Sanctuary is now calling on USDA to “refer egregious cruelty to federal prosecutors, as the agency is statutorily empowered to do, and also to withdraw federal grants of inspection from repeat violators,” wrote Friedrich.
“Animals are suffering horrible abuse in our nation’s slaughterhouses, USDA is charged with stopping it, and it is past time the agency took these basic steps to do so.”
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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Rescued cows image: Marji Beach