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).
The 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.