Farmed Animal Watch
A Project of Animal Place

March 16, 2004                                                     (To Search This Page Press Ctrl F)
Number #42 Volume 2

 

CONTENTS


1.  Des Moines Register Series on Farmed Animal Welfare
A.  Research
B.  Campaigns & Contenders
C.  Change & Cause
D.  Welfare Audits
E.  Inhumane Slaughter

2.  GAO Finds HSA Violations Continuing, Enforcement Lacking
A.  Ineffective Stunning
B.  Incomplete Records 
C.  Animals Killed While Conscious, Other Violations
D.  Inconsistent Enforcement Actions
E.  GAO Recommendations
F.  FSIS Response
 

1.  DES MOINES REGISTER SERIES ON FARMED ANIMAL WELFARE
The Des Moines Register published a series of articles concerning farmed animal welfare on March 7th and 8th {1}. In a survey of the biggest U.S. farmers, agribusiness executives, academicians and environmental leaders taken last summer by the Agricultural Issue Forum, animal welfare was identified as the No. 7 "megatrend" (out of 12) facing American agriculture. Another indication of its importance is its ranking among the three top priorities for the dean of Iowa State University's college of agriculture. (Iowa is the top producing state of pigs and eggs.) {2}
 
A.  Research
Researchers at Purdue University are looking into alternative confinement systems, ways to bring hens into another egg production cycle other than starving them (as is done to 75% of U.S. hens), and alternatives to non-medical surgical procedures (e.g.,  beak and tail amputation) such as breeding "kinder, gentler birds." Among other problems being researched are piglet mortality, restricted feeding times for pigs, ractopamine (see item #2: http://tinyurl.com/t6h6 ), and the effects of stress on the immune systems of calves. "Treating animals well, researchers say, translates into better-quality and more production of meat, eggs and dairy products. It also saves money, because fewer animals become so ill that they need to be medicated or killed," the article notes {3}.
 
B.  Campaigns & Contenders
The editor of Doane's Agricultural Report differentiates animal welfare from animal rights {4}, and a few major players are identified {5}. PETA's Bruce Friedrich was named the 5th-most influential man under 38 by Details magazine. Defending PETA's controversial tactics, Friedrich explains, "We don't have the advertising budget of the meat industry. [Tyson Foods, for example, spent about $40 million on ads in 2003.] We do things that will get attention." They have caught the attention of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an industry financed advocacy group (see item #6: http://tinyurl.com/q7t5 ) which is conducting an ad campaign against PETA. Industry and animal advocacy organizations are both targeting youth in the debate over meat {6}. Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the U.S. has begun Care4Iowa, a campaign connecting animal welfare with rural Iowa's economic development. "Our job is not to convince people to care about animals, but to help them express themselves about how they want animals cared for," explains HSUS's Chris Bedford {7 (see also: http://www.hsus.org/ace/19174 )}.                    
 
C.  Change & Cause
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has no authority to inspect individual farms but corporate customers, like McDonald's, are dictating changes in the way animals are kept. McDonald's denies groups like PETA have forced it to demand changes but a United Egg Producers (UEP) representative explains that changes throughout the farmed animal industries "all [stem] from McDonald's desire to have its suppliers comply with humane animal practices because of animal-rights groups"{2}. National Review, a leading conservative journal, said PETA has "scored inarguable successes" against farmed animal agriculture. McDonald's Burger King and KFC are among those who have initiated changes after having been targeted by PETA {6}. The publisher of Doane's Agricultural Report notes: "McDonald's won't kowtow to a group like PETA unless they think they have a large number of consumers who agree with them." UEP represents 90% of the U.S. egg industry, with 80% of its members voluntarily following the trade group's controversial animal care guidelines (see item #1: http://tinyurl.com/3fvs5 ) {1}. The National Pork Board's Swine Welfare Assurance Program is also voluntary {8 (and see: http://www.porkboard.org/SWAPHome/default2.asp )}.
 
D.  Welfare Audits
Some companies are requiring their suppliers to permit annual inspections to verify they are complying with welfare standards ("Farms Adjust to Inspections"). Slaughterplants were already subject to inspection by the USDA and for the most part they have accepted the new audits. Farmed animals are generally not covered by the Animal Welfare Act, and some farm groups, such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, are resisting the audits, arguing that they are an unnecessary expense. Suppliers pay for them, at a cost of up to $1,000 per operation. The USDA is conducting some of the audits as a voluntary program (see: http://processverified.usda.gov ). Other audits are to be done by private firms (see items #7: http://tinyurl.com/26z8g ) or by the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists, a private organization. Wal-Mart, said to be the world's largest food retailer (per Supermarket News), won't require inspections. Sauder Egg's, which supplies Safeway, Sam's Club, and other large retailers, is featured in the article {9}.
 
E.  Inhumane Slaughter
Following an April 2001 Washington Post expose of Humane Slaughter Act violations ( http://tinyurl.com/2jrn3 ), Congress designated additional funding for enforcement of the law. The USDA hired 17 new veterinarians and reassigned dozens of inspectors to monitor slaughterplants for violations of the law (see item #4: http://tinyurl.com/2ssh7 ). Inspectors have cited an increased number of violations but a recent investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, found continuing enforcement problems (see item #2 below). Nationwide, the USDA has 7,600 inspectors, whose top priority is food safety. They oversee 918 slaughterplants {10} that kill[ed some 138 million cattle, pigs and sheep in 2003 {11}. The billions of birds killed each year in federally inspected slaughterplants are not covered by the Humane Slaughter Act.] "You can be critical of USDA, yes, saying they haven't spent enough time standing at the stunning chute, but you also have to be realistic," states Janice Swanson, associate professor of animal welfare issues at Kansas State University {10}.
 
Letters in response to the series were published in the March 14th issue: http://tinyurl.com/2zwz4
 
1.  "Livestock Confinements," The Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher & Jerry Perkins, March 7-8, 2004.
http://miva.dmregister.com/miva/cgi-bin/miva?news/package.mv+Livestock_Confinements
2.  "Kinder, Gentler Food," The Des Moines Register, Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://www.desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23731755.html
3.  "Creature Comforts," The Des Moines Register, Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23051670.html
4.  "MegaTrend: Welfare Differs from Rights, Adviser Says,"D.M.R., Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23731763.html
5.  "Major Figures," The Des Moines Register, Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23736339.html
6. "Hates Meat, Loves Animals," The Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23611197.html
7.  "Iowa: Campaign Unites Consumers, Farmers," D.M.R., Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23731762.html
See also: "Consumer: Caterer fights against animal abuse," D.M.R., Jerry Perkins, March 7, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23731758.html
8.  "Farm: Pork group intent on showing concern," D.M.R., Jerry Perkins, March 8, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23736349.html
9.  "Farms Adjust to Inspections," The Des Moines Register, Philip Brasher, March 8, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23736344.html
10.  "Inspections: USDA Steps Up Enforcement of Humane Slaughter Act," D.M.R., Philip Brasher, March 8, 2004.
http://desmoinesregister.com/business/stories/c4789013/23736340.html
11. "Livestock Slaughter: Number and Average Weights, United States," Livestock Slaughter, National Agricultural Statistics Service, January 23, 2004.
http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/nassr/livestock/pls-bb/2004/lstk0104.txt         
 
 
 
2.  GAO FINDS HSA VIOLATIONS CONTINUING, ENFORCEMENT LACKING
In a report for fiscal year 2003 appropriations, Congress directed the GAO (see "Inhumane Slaughter" in item #1) to review and report on the scope and frequency of Humane Slaughter Act (HSA) violations and make recommendations on how enforcement can be improved (p.3 of source #1). In January, the GAO released its 40-page report {1}. Cattle, goats, horses and other equines, sheep, and  pigs are covered by the Act's protections (p.7) as soon as they come into the custody of the plant. It is against the law for slaughter facilities to kill [or] process animals for commercial sale without inspectors present (p.2). While inspectors are supposed to observe the entire handling and slaughter process, they do not have to observe all of the animals all the time nor are they always present in all areas (p. 12). In 2002, the USDA hired 17 additional veterinarians as District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMS) with money earmarked for enhanced enforcement of the Act. They are to serve as the primary contacts for all HSA issues in each of the 15 FSIS district offices, and as liaisons between the district offices and headquarters (p.2, http://tinyurl.com/25k2d and item #4: http://tinyurl.com/2ssh7 ). Initially, however, they were not dealing exclusively with HSA responsibilities (p.15). The USDA stated in its March 2003 report, "The Agency is ensuring that our DVMS are fully devoted to humane handling and slaughter activities," in keeping with Congressional expectation that their mission be limited to HSA enforcement {2}. After being surveyed by FSIS, all but 5 have decided to focus strictly on it (p.15).
 
A.  Ineffective Stunning
Animal scientist and industry consultant Temple Grandin ( http://www.grandin.com ) surveyed U.S. slaughterplants in 1996 and again in 2002 (see item #1: http://tinyurl.com/ob3v ). While she found vast improvement, her latter survey indicates hundreds of thousands of animals still not stunned effectively with a single attempt, as required by law. Therefore, some instances of inhumane treatment may go undetected. Grandin does not believe that animals can be effectively stunned on the first try every time. She devised an auditing system for slaughterplants based instead on the highest standards a handler could meet on a regular basis. Officials, however, point out that while her system may be appropriate for monitoring purposes it would not be for regulatory purposes since it permits less than 100% effective stunning (p.16). (The same system is being used as the basis of auditing systems for farmed animal production operations, see item #6 of http://tinyurl.com/26z8g
 
B.  Incomplete Records 
The GAO reviewed FSIS records for the time period between January 2001 and March 2003. (FSIS was unable to supply all records, making it difficult for GAO to assess the frequency of noncompliance.) Of the 553 noncompliance records provided, there were 675 HSA violations at 272 facilities (representing about 30% of the more than 900 slaughterplants in the U.S.). Ineffective stunning was the most prevalent violation, in many cases resulting in a conscious animal being slaughtered. About half of the 16 DVMS the GAO interviewed believe the frequency of noncompliance is likely under reported since inspectors do not always document violations (p.17). FSIS recently issued a directive requiring inspectors to document all violations. (A January 18, 2001 FSIS memorandum called for the same thing {2}.) However, inspectors do not observe the handling and slaughter of every animal (p.18).    
 
C.  Animals Killed While Conscious, Other Violations
The single code for classifying HSA violations (in contrast to the many ways food safety violations can be classified), coupled with inspectors' inconsistent descriptions of violations, made it difficult for GAO to determine the scope and severity of them (p. 18). In its March 2003 report to Congress, the USDA reported that for fiscal year 2002 most HSA infractions were for facility conditions and failure to provide animals with water or food, with "very few" being for abusive handling or ineffective stunning. It stated: "These numbers indicate that FSIS actions to prevent inhumane violations are working, as only one half of one percent of all compliance procedures performed indicate the occurrence of humane handling violations"{2}.
 
GAO's review for the same period instead found 25% of HSA infractions were for ineffective stunning. It found similar results for the period between January 2001 and March 2003. Of the 675 violations it identified for that period, 167 were for ineffective stunning with 67% of them resulting in animals being killed while conscious (p. 20). (In the other cases, the animals could have been rendered unconscious after repeat stunning or regained consciousness prior to slaughter (p. 21).) The DVMS told GAO that ineffective stunning, poor facility conditions, and lack of water were the most common violations they observed while evaluating HSA compliance (p. 20).
 
Steps FSIS has taken to improve reporting of HSA violations, such as a directive issued in November 2003 instructing inspectors to document all violations [ http://tinyurl.com/2e55g ] and scenarios illustrating how to implement HSA requirements [ http://tinyurl.com/27y2u ], are explained in the report (p. 22).     
 
D.  Inconsistent Enforcement Actions
FSIS officials and guidance indicated enforcement action is not appropriate for all violations. GAO notes "For example, while stunning an animal more than once is clearly an instance of noncompliance with humane handling and slaughter requirements, an inspector may not feel that an enforcement action is necessary if a plant employee stuns an animal more than once because of certain unavoidable conditions, such as an animal moving its head just prior to being stunned." Nonetheless, GAO found that FSIS took inconsistent enforcement actions to address noncompliance. Records indicate no enforcement action was taken even in some cases when multiple instances of ineffective stunning occurred or several animals were slaughtered while conscious. In the 167 instances of ineffective stunning (see above), "reject" tags were used to temporarily stop slaughter operations in more than half of the 86 cases involving single animals but in less than half of the 79 cases involving multiple animals (p. 23). About half of the DVMS told GAO that inspectors often don't take enforcement action when they should, which they attributed to lack of understanding (p. 24).
 
Additionally, FSIS's 15 district managers, who can remove inspectors from part or all of a slaughterplant, suspending operations there, have not taken consistent enforcement actions. GAO faulted FSIS guidance, specifically the lack of uniform criteria, for the inconsistency. Between October 2001 and July 2003, district managers issued 8 suspensions at 7 slaughterplants directly involving HSA violations: 4 for inappropriate stunning or the slaughter of conscious animals, 2 for mistreatment of disabled animals, and 1 for excessive use of electric prods and force, and 1 for hazardous fencing and lack of access to water. During the same time period, 4 letters were sent to slaughterplants threatening suspension if corrective action was not taken (p.25). (In its March 2003 report, USDA noted that, in the 5 years prior, FSIS had suspended inspection services from facilities 16 times solely for HSA noncompliance {2}.) The GAO determined that a lack of information prevents FSIS from being able to effectively evaluate its own performance or make informed decisions on whether additional inspectors are needed (p.26). (The USDA's March 2003 report states "FSIS believes it has the resources it needs to fully enforce the [HSA]"{2}.)              
 
E.  GAO Recommendations
The GAO report concludes with 6 recommendations: more specific codes for classifying HSA violations, uniform and consistent criteria for enforcement actions on repetitive violations, documenting the basis of enforcement actions for repeat violations, develop a way to identify the level of effort inspectors devote to monitoring HSA activities, develop criteria for determining the appropriate amount of inspection resources needed, and periodically assess if said resources are adequate to effectively enforce the Act (p.29/30).  
 
F.  FSIS Response
The GAO interviewed Dr. Grandin and representatives from the meat industry and from animal protection organizations. A draft report was given to FSIS. The response by FSIS Administrator Gary McKee is included, as is GAO's reaction to it (Appendix II, see also: http://tinyurl.com/2khap ). The report also gives background information on the HSA, and explains the procedures FSIS is to take in response to violations. It includes photographs, illustrations, maps, tables and appendixes.
 
In October, McKee admonished inspectors for at times failing to take action against hazardous and inhumane practices. According to a USA Today article, he was, in part, alluding to an incident last summer at an Illinois slaughterplant during which as many as 1,600 pigs died from heat stress as they awaited slaughter. Only after several days of deaths did the inspector shut down the plant {3}.
   
See also: "News and Information on Humane Slaughter and Humane Animal Handling," Food Safety at: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/topics/humane.htm#10
 
Thanks to Che Green for initially bringing the GAO report to our attention.
 
1.  "Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: USDA Has Addressed Some Problems But Still Faces Enforcement Challenges," The General Accounting Office, January 2004.
http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04247.pdf
2.  Food Safety and Inspection Service Humane Handling and Slaughter Enforcement Activities
Report to Congress, March 2003.
http://www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/congress/hhand2003.htm
3.  "Food Safety Chief Scolds Inspectors," USA Today, Elizabeth Weise, November 10, 2003.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-11-10-food-safety_x.htm