The U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday issued draft guidelines intended to help meat and poultry firms that wish to implement in-plant video monitoring, a tool that has been lauded by food safety and humane handling experts.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the purpose of the guidance is to make sure firms know they have the option of using video monitoring as a tool to improve their operations.

“Establishments may choose to use video or other electronic recording equipment for various purposes including ensuring that livestock are handled humanely, that good commercial practices are followed, monitoring product inventory, or conducting establishment security,” said the agency in a release yesterday.  “Records from video or other electronic monitoring or recording equipment may also be used to meet FSIS’ record-keeping requirements.”

“Today’s action fulfills a recommendation from the November 2008 USDA Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) report that called for FSIS to determine whether video monitoring would be beneficial in slaughter establishments,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.  “In agreeing to that OIG recommendation, FSIS committed to issuing compliance guidelines for using video records and a directive clarifying FSIS’ authority to access establishment video records.  FSIS recognizes the importance of this resource.”

Acclaimed humane handling expert Temple Grandin has been a leading advocating for more video auditing in the meat industry.

“I’m at the point right now where I want to put it all on live video on the Internet.  I’m at the point where I want the industry to take all the mystery out of things,” she told Food Safety News in June.  “Some of the companies have video auditing and that’s good… but put a live feed out to the Internet so anybody can look.  What have we got to hide?  The only things that I think are really proprietary are the customer lists and maybe the boxes where they pack product.  We have got to take the mystery out of it.”

FSIS is seeking comment from stakeholders on the draft guidance through mid-December. You can submit comments at – the docket number is FSIS-2010-0016.