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Testimony: 

Before the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, Committee on Oversight and 
Government Reform, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
GAO: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 2:00 p.m. EST:
Thursday, March 4, 2010: 

Humane Methods Of Slaughter Act: 

Weaknesses in USDA Enforcement: 

Statement of Lisa Shames, Director:
Natural Resources and Environment: 

GAO-10-487T: 

[End of section] 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss our work on the U.S. 
Department of Agriculture's (USDA) actions to enforce the Humane 
Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (HMSA), as amended, which prohibits 
the inhumane treatment of livestock in slaughter plants and generally 
requires that animals be rendered insensible--that is, unable to feel 
pain--before being slaughtered. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection 
Service (FSIS) is responsible for enforcing HMSA. Concerns about the 
humane handling and slaughter of livestock have increased in recent 
years, particularly after possible HMSA violations were revealed at a 
slaughter plant in California in 2008 and one in Vermont in 2009. 

This statement summarizes our report being released today that (1) 
evaluates USDA's efforts to enforce HMSA, (2) identifies the extent to 
which FSIS tracks recent trends in FSIS inspection resources for 
enforcing HMSA, and (3) evaluates FSIS's efforts to develop a strategy 
to guide HMSA enforcement.[Footnote 1] To perform this work we, among 
other things, conducted a survey of inspectors-in-charge--those 
responsible for reporting on humane handling enforcement in the plants-
-from a random sample of inspectors-in-charge at 257 livestock 
slaughter plants from May 2009 through July 2009. Our sample allowed 
us to make estimates about the observations and opinions of all 
inspectors-in-charge at U.S. slaughter plants.[Footnote 2] We obtained 
responses from 235 inspectors-in-charge, for an overall survey 
response rate of 93 percent. We also examined a sample of FSIS 
noncompliance reports, suspension data, and district veterinary 
medical specialist reports in all 15 of FSIS's district offices for 
fiscal years 2005 through 2009. 

As detailed in our report, we found the following. First, our survey 
of inspectors at slaughter plants and analysis of FSIS data suggest 
that inspectors have not taken consistent actions to enforce HMSA. In 
responding to our survey, different inspectors indicated they would 
take different enforcement actions when faced with a violation of 
humane handling requirements. In addition, our review of noncompliance 
reports identified incidents in which inspectors did not suspend plant 
operations or take regulatory actions when they appeared warranted. 
The lack of consistency in enforcement may be due in part to the lack 
of clarity in current FSIS guidance and to inadequate training. 
Second, FSIS cannot fully identify trends in its inspection funding 
and staffing for HMSA, in part because it cannot track HMSA inspection 
funds separately from the inspection funds spent on food safety 
activities. FSIS also does not have a current workforce planning 
strategy for allocating limited staff to inspection activities, 
including HMSA enforcement. Last, while FSIS has strategic, 
operational, and performance plans for its inspection activities, they 
do not clearly outline goals, needed resources, time frames, or 
performance metrics. Nor do these plans provide a comprehensive 
strategy to guide HMSA enforcement. In our report, we recommend, among 
other things, that FSIS take actions to strengthen its oversight of 
humane handling and slaughter methods at federally inspected 
facilities. In commenting on a draft of the report, USDA did not state 
whether it agreed or disagreed with our findings or recommendations, 
but it stated that it plans to use them in improving efforts to 
enforce HMSA. 

In preparing this testimony, we relied on our work supporting the 
accompanying report. That report contains a detailed overview of our 
scope and methodology. All of our work for this report was performed 
in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain 
sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe 
that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our 
findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. 

GAO Survey Results and FSIS Data Indicate Inconsistent FSIS 
Enforcement of HMSA: 

Our survey results indicate differences in the enforcement actions 
that inspectors reported they would take when faced with a humane 
handling violation. For example, in our survey we asked inspectors how 
they would respond if they observed plant employees electrically 
prodding more than 50 out of 100 animals--a threshold considered 
excessive by an industry standard and a leading industry expert, Dr. 
Temple Grandin. Figure 1 shows that inspectors had varying responses. 
According to FSIS guidance, when FSIS inspectors observe a violation 
of HMSA or its implementing regulations and determine that animals are 
being injured or treated inhumanely, they are to take two actions: (1) 
issue a noncompliance report, which documents the violations and 
actions needed to correct the deficiency and (2) issue a regulatory 
control action, which prohibits the use of a particular piece of 
equipment or area of the facility until the equipment is made 
acceptable to the inspector. They also may, but are not required to, 
initiate an action to suspend plant operations. In addition, according 
to an FSIS training scenario, electrical prods are never to be used on 
the anus, eyes, or other sensitive parts of the animal. 

Figure 1: Percentage of Inspectors Identifying Which Enforcement 
Action They Would Take for Electrical Prodding: 

[Refer to PDF for image: 2 pie-charts] 

Electrically prodding most animals: 
Regulatory control action: 40%; 
Noncompliance report only: 22%; 
Suspension: 9%; 
None of these: 23%; 
Donít know: 6%. 

Electrically prodding in the rectal area: 
Regulatory control action: 35%; 
Noncompliance report only: 23%; 
Suspension: 32%; 
None of these: 7%; 
Donít know: 3%. 

Source: GAO analysis of survey results. 

Notes: This figure is based on the following survey question: "Do you 
believe that each of the following factors alone generally indicates 
that an establishment's action should result in a (1) suspension, (2) 
regulatory control action, (3) noncompliance report, or (4) none of 
these?" These factors included electrically prodding over 50 of 100 
animals within acceptable voltage and electrically prodding one animal 
deliberately in the rectal area. 

[End of figure] 

Similarly, our analysis of noncompliance reports shows inconsistency 
in the actions inspectors took in response to excessive beating or 
prodding. FSIS guidance also states that excessive beating or prodding 
of ambulatory or nonambulatory disabled animals is egregious abuse--
and may therefore warrant suspension of plant operations. From 
inspectors' noncompliance reports, we identified several specific 
incidents in which inspectors did not either take a regulatory control 
action or suspend plant operations. 

Incomplete guidance and inadequate training may contribute to the 
inconsistent enforcement of HMSA. Specifically, according to our 
survey results, inspectors at the plants we surveyed would like more 
guidance and training in seven key areas, as figure 2 shows. 

Figure 2: Inspectors Identified the Need for Additional Guidance 
and/or Training in Seven Key Areas of Humane Handling Enforcement: 

[Refer to PDF for image: vertical bar graph] 

Animal sensibility: 45%; 
Sensible animal on bleed rail: 44%; 
Double stunning: 53%; 
Beating: 50%; 
Electrical prodding: 58%; 
Electrical stunning failure: 51%; 
Slip and falls: 51%. 

Source: GAO analysis of survey results. 

Note: This figure is based on survey question 12: "Would additional 
guidance and/or training be helpful in the following areas? (1) 
determining when an animal is sensible or returning to sensibility; 
(2) determining what, if any, action to take for a sensible animal on 
the rail; (3) determining what, if any, action to take for double 
stunning; (4) determining when the use of a driving instrument or tool 
becomes beating; (5) determining whether a specific incidence of 
electric prodding requires a suspension, regulatory control action, or 
noncompliance report; (6) determining whether electrical stunning of 
an animal fails to render and maintain insensibility; and (7) 
assessing situations involving slipping and falling." 

[End of figure] 

Furthermore, inspectors-in-charge at more than half the plants 
surveyed reported that additional FSIS guidance or training is needed 
on whether a specific incident of electrical prodding requires an 
enforcement action. In addition, of the 80 inspectors who provided 
detailed responses to our survey, 15 noted the need for additional 
guidance, including clarification on what actions constitute egregious 
actions. Similarly, 25 of the 80 inspectors who provided written 
comments identified a need for additional training in several key 
areas. 

In 2004, we recommended that FSIS establish additional clear, 
specific, and consistent criteria for district offices to use when 
considering whether to take enforcement actions because of repeat 
violations.[Footnote 3] FSIS agreed with this recommendation and 
delegated to the districts the responsibility for determining how many 
repeat violations should result in a suspension. However, incidents 
such as those at the slaughter plants in California and in Vermont 
suggest that this delegation was not successful. To date, FSIS has not 
issued additional guidance. 

FSIS Cannot Fully Identify Trends in Inspection Resources and Plan 
Resource Needs for HMSA Enforcement: 

FSIS cannot fully identify trends in its inspection resources-- 
specifically, funding and staffing--for HMSA enforcement, in part 
because it cannot track humane handling inspection funds separately 
from the inspection funds spent on food safety activities. 
Furthermore, FSIS does not have a current workforce planning strategy 
to guide its efforts to allocate staff to inspection activities, 
including humane handling. 

According to FSIS officials, funds for humane handling come primarily 
from two sources: (1) FSIS's general inspection account and (2) the 
account used to support the Humane Activities Tracking System. The 
general inspection account supports all FSIS inspection activities, 
both food safety and other activities, including humane handling 
enforcement. Because the same inspectors may carry out these tasks 
concurrently, FSIS cannot track humane handling funds separately, 
according to FSIS officials. 

According to FSIS officials, for the most part, inspectors are to 
devote 80 percent of their time to food safety inspection activities 
and 20 percent of their time to humane handling inspection and other 
activities. However, our analysis of resources shows that this is not 
the case. We estimated that the percentage of funds dedicated to HMSA 
enforcement has been about 1 percent of FSIS's total annual inspection 
appropriation, although it rose slightly in 2008, when FSIS directed 
the inspectors to increase the amount of time they devoted to humane 
handling, following the 2008 incident in California. 

For fiscal year 2010, FSIS officials told us, they planned to use $2 
million of their inspection funds to enhance oversight of humane 
handling enforcement by hiring 24 inspectors, including both public 
health veterinarians and inspectors. FSIS officials planned to 
strategically place these additional inspectors at locations where 
they are most needed to support humane handling enforcement in 
addition to their other food safety responsibilities. 

While FSIS has increased its hiring, it has not done so in the context 
of an updated strategic workforce plan. Such a plan would help FSIS 
align its workforce with its mission and ensure that the agency has 
the right people in the right place performing the right work to 
achieve the agency's goals. In February 2009, we reported that the 
FSIS veterinarian workforce had decreased by nearly 10 percent since 
fiscal year 2003 and that the agency had not been fully staffed over 
the past decade.[Footnote 4] We reported that, as of fiscal year 2008, 
FSIS had a 15 percent shortage of veterinarians. The majority of these 
veterinarians work in slaughter plants, and these plants ranged from 
no vacancy to 35 percent of their veterinarian positions vacant. The 
FSIS 2007 strategic workforce plan--the most recently available--
identifies specific actions to help the agency address some of the 
gaps in recruiting and retaining these mission-critical occupations 
over time. However, it does not address specific workforce needs for 
HMSA enforcement activities. 

FSIS officials stated that workforce planning occurs at the district 
level. According to district officials, they have discretion in 
deciding where to deploy additional inspectors. Therefore, they can 
deploy these inspectors at plants that they believe may require more 
HMSA oversight. However, more than one-third of the inspectors who 
provided written comments in our survey noted the need for additional 
staff or the lack of time to perform humane handling activities. 

FSIS Does Not Have a Comprehensive Strategy for Enforcing HMSA: 

Although FSIS has strategic, operational, and performance plans for 
its inspection activities, these plans do not specifically address 
HMSA enforcement. That is, they do not clearly outline the agency's 
goals for enforcing HMSA, identify expected resource needs, specify 
time frames, or lay out performance metrics. Specifically, FSIS 
Strategic Plan FY 2008 through FY 2013 provides an overview of the 
agency's major strategic goals and the means to achieve those goals. 
However, this plan does not clearly articulate or list goals related 
to HMSA enforcement. Instead, the plan generally addresses agency 
goals, such as improving data collection and analysis, maintaining 
information technology infrastructure to support agency programs, and 
enhancing inspection and enforcement systems overall to protect public 
health. FSIS Office of Field Operations officials agreed that the plan 
does not specifically address humane handling, but, they explained, 
the operational plans and policy performance plans contain the details 
concerning humane handling performance. However, we did not find that 
these two plans provide a comprehensive strategy for HMSA enforcement. 

In our report, we recommend that FSIS take actions to strengthen its 
oversight of humane handling and slaughter methods at federally 
inspected facilities and develop an integrated strategy that clearly 
defines goals, identifies resources needed, and establishes time 
frames and performance metrics specifically for enforcing HMSA. We 
provided USDA with a draft of our report for review and comment. USDA 
did not state whether it agreed or disagreed with our findings or 
recommendations. However, it stated that it plans to use them in 
improving efforts to enforce HMSA. USDA recognized the need to improve 
the inspectors' ability to identify trends in humane handling 
violations and work with academia, industry, and others to identify 
practices that will achieve more consistent HMSA enforcement. USDA 
also questioned whether the results of our survey of FSIS inspectors 
provide evidence of systemic inconsistencies in enforcement. We 
believe they do and would encourage USDA to consider the views of 
inspectors at the plants who are responsible for daily HMSA 
enforcement. USDA also provided technical comments, which we 
incorporated into our report, as appropriate. 

Mr. Chairman this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to 
respond to any questions that you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have. 

For questions or further information regarding this statement, please 
contact Lisa Shames, Director, Natural Resources and Environment at 
(202) 512-3841 or shamesl@gao.gov. Thomas M. Cook, Assistant Director; 
Nanette J. Barton; Beverly A. Peterson; Benjamin N. Shouse; and Tyra 
J. Thompson also made key contributions to this statement. Contact 
points for our Offices of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs 
may be found on the last page of this testimony. 

[End of section] 

Footnotes: 

[1] GAO, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: Actions Are Needed to 
Strengthen Enforcement, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-203] (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 19, 
2010). See also GAO, Humane Methods of Handling and Slaughter: Public 
Reporting on Violations Can Identify Enforcement Challenges and 
Enhance Transparency, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-686T] (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 17, 
2008). 

[2] Full sample percentage estimates from the survey have margins of 
error at the 95 percent confidence level of plus or minus 7 percentage 
points or less, unless otherwise noted. 

[3] GAO, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act: USDA Has Addressed Some 
Problems but Still Faces Enforcement Challenges, [hyperlink, 
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-04-247] (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 30, 
2004). 

[4] GAO, Veterinarian Workforce: Actions Are Needed to Ensure 
Sufficient Capacity for Protecting Public and Animal Health, 
[hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-178] (Washington, D.C.: 
Feb. 4, 2009). 

[End of section] 

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