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Inspector General Gives Positive Report on FSIS Humane Handling Enforcement

The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is appropriately handling industry appeals of its humane handling enforcement actions, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General (OIG).

cowdowner-350.jpgThe audit — which was requested by the Office of Food Safety to “ensure that FSIS was appropriately enforcing federal humane handling laws” — was positive across the board and made no formal recommendations for the agency. The review was part of a multi-pronged reaction to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report that found enforcement of humane handling laws was inconsistent.

“The OIG determination shows that FSIS’ enforcement of humane handling regulations, as well as its appeals process, is fair and consistent,” Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen said in a USDA release on Monday. “As OIG noted, FSIS has taken many steps to improve its inspectors’ understanding of humane handling requirements and the tools they have to ensure the humane handling of livestock.”

According to OIG, since December 2010, FSIS has taken several important steps to improve FSIS verification and enforcement of federal humane handling laws. FSIS outlined the findings, including:

– Issued instructions to inspection program personnel clarifying that all non-ambulatory mature cattle must be condemned and promptly euthanized. The clarification was focused on ensuring that animals are humanely handled and that the policy is consistently applied nationwide.

– Delivered enhanced, situation-based humane handling training to the FSIS inspection program personnel who perform humane handling verification duties at livestock slaughter establishments to ensure that they are familiar with the realistic scenarios that they may encounter. Updated its humane handling directive to instruct FSIS personnel to notify establishments that they may develop and implement a systematic approach to humane handling.

– Helped to create a position in the Office of Food Safety for an Ombudsman, a neutral party to whom FSIS field personnel can report humane handling concerns when the standard reporting mechanisms do not adequately address outstanding issues. USDA is currently in the process of filling this position.

“FSIS has also increased the transparency of its enforcement of federal humane handling laws. FSIS began publishing a new Humane Handling Quarterly Report, which includes all noncompliance records issued for inhumane handling, as well as the time spent by employees on humane handling verification activities,” according to the agency. “Previously, humane handling enforcement data posted on the FSIS website was limited to suspensions. FSIS has also begun posting redacted notices of enforcement actions taken against establishments that have been found in violation of federal humane handling laws.”

The agency also pointed out that it has since issued a final compliance guide on voluntary in-plant video monitoring to help establishments that want to put such systems in place to boost oversight.

The audit report can be found on OIG’s website at www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/24601-0002-31.pdf.

© Food Safety News
  • susan Rudnicki

    Frankly, having experience with other OIG reports monitoring the very agencies they are “investigating” I find the conclusions of this “report” unhelpful, ridiculously limited, and missing the point. I bet no one will read the actual document, but I did and pulled out a few of the most egregious assertions.
    “Fieldwork was performed at the FSIS headquarters office in Washington, D.C., and FSIS district offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The selection of district offices was based on the number of appealed humane handling noncompliance records and the number of appeals that were granted. We did not perform any reviews at slaughter establishments for this audit.” WOW–THIS MAKES EVERY CONFIDENCE THAT ANALYZING DATA IN A OFFICE, FROM THE QUESTIONABLE SOURCES RECORDING THE DATA, IS LIKELY TO TURN UP INHUMANE CONDUCT, EH?
    Although FSIS guidance states that the public health veterinarian, inspector in charge, front line supervisor, and district manager should attempt to respond to appeals within 2 weeks, we found the average time for the FSIS officials listed above to respond to an appeal was 28 days (4 weeks). We identified 9 instances where FSIS took 100 or more days to respond to an appealed humane handling violation, with the longest time being 302 days. We determined that, for 61 of the 138 (44 percent) appeals, FSIS took more than 2 weeks to respond, and 46 of the 138 (33 percent) took more than 3 weeks. SO, SKINNING/DECAPITATING OF LIVE CALVES, AS REPORTED BY THE WHISTLE BLOWER AT THE BELTWAY PLANT (FOR EXAMPLE) WOULD BE GETTING A QUICK RESPONSE, USING THIS RUBRIC?? MY GUESS IS A LOT OF DOWNERS AND OTHER INHUMANE ISSUES WOULD KEEP HAPPENING TILL THE AUTHORITIES “GET ‘ROUND TO IT.
    Of the 138 appeals of humane handling noncompliance records, 8 were granted because the FSIS inspector’s description of the noncompliance was unclear or inadequate and the FSIS personnel at the next level of appeal could not determine if the situation was actually a humane handling violation. For example, one supervisor reviewing an appeal wrote that he granted the appeal “due to an inadequate description of the noncompliance within Block 10 of the NR [noncompliance record]. The noncompliance was not apparent with the description provided.” Block 10 is the space within the noncompliance record form used to describe the noncompliance observed by FSIS personnel. SO, A SPACE ON A REPORT PAPER IS UTILIZED FOR RECORDING THE NATURE OF CRUELTY, BUT THE OBSERVER IS SO LANGUAGE CHALLENGED, THEY CAN NOT PUT IT INTO WORDS? MAYBE WE NEED SOME PHOTOS TO REFER TO WITH THE OBSERVERS PAPERS—“CAN YOU MATCH THIS HORROR?” “IF IT LOOKS LIKE THIS, IT IS INHUMANE”
    For example, one of the five appeals describes how an FSIS inspector observed animal handlers chasing animals into the kill alley by shouting and whistling. According to Federal regulations, livestock must be driven to slaughter at a normal walking pace and with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals.10 After the inspector issued a noncompliance record, the establishment appealed, and the appeal was granted by the inspector in charge. The inspector in charge did not question the validity of the events described in the noncompliance record but did acknowledge that, after discussions with the plant’s management and the subsequent actions taken by the establishment, the animal handlers’ performance was much improved. In other words, the appeal appears to have been granted based solely on corrective actions; namely, the subsequent improvement of animal movement by establishment personnel. CONSIDERING THE HORRIFIC ALLEGATIONS OF SKINNING ALIVE WEEK OLD CALVES, HOTSHOTTING DAIRY COWS UNABLE TO WALK, ETC. THIS WAS THE EXAMPLE THEY CHOOSE TO DOCUMENT? LET US SANITIZE THE ISSUES, PLEASE This report is a travesty of self-serving reporting

  • Inspector Minkpuppy

    Well I did read the report and I got something completely different out of it. OIG’s findings on the appeal process are valid and dead on. They determined that the Agency followed proper procedures in the handling of the appeals and gave the plants a fair shake.
    THE AUDIT WAS NOT CONDUCTED TO UNCOVER INCIDENTS OF INHUMANE HANDLING. The report addresses the 138 appealed regulatory actions, not ALL noncompliances/enforcement actions for humane handling violations. Obviously, the inspectors were documenting the instances of humane handling or there wouldn’t have been any industry appeals in the first place. I don’t have access to the total number of regulatory actions taken during the time period audited but maybe some else reading this does.
    Just because a plant appeals an enforcement action, it doesn’t allow them to continue violating humane handling regulations. They still have to institute corrective actions–namely, stopping the behavior that gotten them written up in the first place. The report doesn’t indicate in any way that the appealing establishments were allowed to keep abusing animals. It would be foolish and dangerous to assume that they are allowed to keep violating the regs.
    When industry appeals, they are generally arguing the facts of the incident in question not whether or not a violation actually occurred. Some plants just appeal every NR, hoping they’ll get lucky and one will get overturned. They don’t realize it actually makes them look worse–like they don’t want to comply with the regulations.
    “We fixed it right away” is not justification for appealing an NR. The plant’s corrective actions after they get caught should not be a basis for granting an appeal either. FSIS doesn’t do that for any other regulatory violation so why is humane handling any different?
    The NR is a record of the observed violations and needs to stand on its own merits, not on what the plant did in response. The NR records are evaluated to determine a trend in noncompliance. If there’s a trend, then stronger action needs to be taken. Compliance or EIAO’s will be sent in, not OIG.
    The example quoted by Susan is ONE incident that was appealed by industry and is by no means a reflection of all the humane handling violations written during a 3-year period of time. It would be a huge mistake to assume that ALL of the NR’s written during that time were just for running cattle. However, it is ABSOLUTELY a violation if the cattle are panicking or bolting as a result of the noise. Frightened animals are stressed animals–the whole idea of humane handling is to reduce stress on the animals. A frightened animal can also injure itself and be more difficult to properly stun–how is that humane?
    I guarantee the enforcement actions taken involved something a whole lot more serious than running cattle (think the incidents mentioned by Susan). Enforcement actions are usually suspensions which are much more serious than a noncompliance record. The NR only documents one instance. When you get a bunch for continuing violations then you have a trend. When you get a trend, EIAO’s and compliance officers visit the plant. Those individuals, in conjunction with the District office, determine if the trend is serious enough to shut the plant down for a few days or even weeks until they get their act together.
    The granted appeal on the basis of the poorly described NR was totally justified. If a lay person can’t figure out what happened from what’s written in Box 10, then it’s a poorly written NR. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the inspector is language challenged or that the plant was allowed to continue whatever they were doing without further documentation. We inspectors learn quickly how to write the next NR so it doesn’t get appealed.
    We get about zero training in writing much less the way to properly write an NR. Not all inspectors have the benefit of a college course in Technical Writing. I think a mandatory NR writing course should be instituted for all new CSI’s, utilizing actual NR’s so they can see how it’s done.
    Overall, it sounds like to me all the new training and directives on humane handling are making inspectors more confident in their ability to enforce humane handling. I recall that lack of proper training was the inspectors’ major complaint when the Beltway video came out. From what I understand, they’re documenting the occurrences more often also. Appeals happen. It’s up to the Agency to provide instruction on how to write things up so the likelihood of it happening is reduced.