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USDA revises standards for humane cattle slaughter

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Apr 01, 2011
By dvm360.com staff

NATIONAL REPORT — New standards triggered by the record-breaking beef recall in 2008 are taking effect this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

A highlight of the new standards is that veterinary inspectors will now have to ensure that cattle too sick to stand for any reason be "condemned and properly euthanized," FSIS says. Only veal qualify for an exemption, if their non-ambulatory status is due to cold or fatigue. In those cases, veal may be set aside for treatment under FSIS supervision, the agency says.

The changes, released Dec. 22, aim to ensure humane treatment and slaughter of all cattle at FSIS-inspected facilities.

"When Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, they provided FSIS with the authority to prevent needless suffering, and we take our responsibility very seriously," says FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. "Consumers need to be confident our inspectors have the direction they need to ensure that humane slaughter is carried out properly."

Other new measures include responding to (and soliciting comments on) petitions from the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary, appointing an ombudsman in the Office of Food Safety to deal with humane handling issues, requesting the USDA Office of Inspector General to audit industry appeals of noncompliance methods and other humane handling enforcement actions and providing enhanced humane handling training for inspection personnel.

The 2008 beef recall, the largest in U.S. history with a total of 143 million pounds of beef recalled, began with an undercover video of inhumane downer cattle handling at a California meatpacking facility. The incident was partially blamed on oversight lapses by public health veterinarians who were not called to re-evaluate non-ambulatory cattle pre-slaughter.