Humane Methods of Slaughter Act:

USDA Has Addressed Some Problems but Still Faces Enforcement Challenges

GAO-04-247: Published: Jan 30, 2004. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2004.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Lisa R. Shames
(202) 512-9692
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

In 1978, the Congress passed the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act to ensure that cattle, sheep, hogs, and other animals destined for human consumption are handled and slaughtered humanely. Within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for enforcing the act. Recently, the Congress took additional actions to improve FSIS enforcement. GAO reviewed (1) the frequency and scope of humane handling and slaughter violations, (2) actions to enforce compliance, and (3) the adequacy of existing resources to enforce the act.

Incomplete and inconsistent inspection records made it difficult to determine the frequency and scope of humane handling and slaughter violations. FSIS was unable to produce at least 44 of its inspection records that document violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and implementing regulations. Also, inspectors did not always document violations of the HMSA because they may not have been aware of regulatory requirements. Further, the records that FSIS provided did not consistently document the scope and severity of each incident. USDA is taking steps to address these issues. Enforcement actions to address noncompliance with the act and regulations were also inconsistent. For example, we found that FSIS inspectors temporarily halted stunning operations in more than half of the cases involving ineffective stunning of a single animal, but in less than half of similar cases involving multiple animals. We also found that FSIS officials may not be using consistent criteria to suspend plant operations--the enforcement action used when serious or repeated violations of the HMSA occur. As a result, plants in different FSIS districts may not be subject to comparable enforcement actions. In November 2003, FSIS issued clearer guidance to its inspectors and field personnel that should help resolve some of these problems. FSIS lacks detailed information on how much time its inspectors spend on humane handling and slaughter activities making it difficult to determine if the number of inspectors is adequate. In general, FSIS officials believe that, with the introduction of a District Veterinary Medical Specialist at each of the agency's field offices, the current number of personnel devoted to humane handling and slaughter compliance is adequate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Per USDA's Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review, USDA is implementing this recommendation by using the Agency's updated electronic Animal Disposition Reporting System (eADRS) and its Humane Activities Tracking tool to document the number of animals slaughtered each day and the amount of time spent monitoring humane slaughter requirements. The information maintained in eADRS will be regularly examined by FSIS managers to assist in inspection resource planning.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FSIS can make well-informed estimates about the resources it needs to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to develop criteria for determining the level of inspection resources that are appropriate on the basis of plant size, configuration, or history of compliance, once the mechanism is developed and in operation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS has implemented the Humane-handling Activities Tracking component of the Electronic Animal Disposition Reporting System, which tracks the time FSIS personnel spend verifying that humane handling and slaughter requirements are met. This system provides FSIS the needed data to quantify violations of the HMSA and identifies the level of effort that inspectors devote to monitoring compliance with HMSA. This action is responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FSIS can make well-informed estimates about the resources it needs to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to develop a mechanism for identifying the level of effort that inspectors currently devote to monitoring humane handling and slaughter activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS Notice 35-04 and FSIS Directive 6900.2 explain that inspection personnel are to assist district officials in determining when to take enforcement actions (for repetitive violations) by providing support to the district officials which links noncompliances and demonstrates that a noncompliance trend exists. The directive poses five questions to inspection personnel to assist them in determining when a noncompliance trend exists. It further instructs inspection personnel to document this information in the noncompliance records. This action is responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that district officials use uniform and consistent criteria when taking enforcement actions, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to require that district offices and inspectors clearly document the basis for their decisions regarding enforcement actions that are based on repetitive violations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS Notice 35-04 and FSIS Directive 6900.2 explain that inspection personnel are to assist district officials in determining when to take enforcement actions (for repetitive violations) by providing support to the district officials which links noncompliances and demonstrates that a noncompliance trend exists. According to Directive 6900.2, in these cases, the noncompliances should not immediately affect an animal's safety or constitute egregious inhumane acts. FSIS Notice 35-04 further explains that noncompliances involving injury or inhumane treatment of an egregious nature warrant immediate enforcement by inspection personnel. It also provides eight examples that define these types of noncompliances. The guidance clarifies that district officials are to be notified of enforcement actions (i.e., suspensions) by facility Inspectors in Charge in these cases. These actions are responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that district officials use uniform and consistent criteria when taking enforcement actions, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to establish additional clear, specific, and consistent criteria for district offices to use when considering whether to take enforcement actions because of repetitive violations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FSIS has issued a Directive 35-04 that establishes categories for the types and causes of humane handling and slaughter violations to be reported on noncompliance records. This action is responsive to GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To provide more quantifiable and informative data on violations of the HMSA, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to supplement the narrative found in noncompliance records with more specific codes that classify the types and causes of humane handling and slaughter violations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While FSIS has taken some steps that are responsive to this recommendation, without further evaluation, we do not know the effectiveness of these steps or whether they fully implement the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that FSIS can make well-informed estimates about the resources it needs to enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FSIS to, periodically, assess whether that level is sufficient to effectively enforce the act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 8, 2014

Aug 7, 2014

Jul 29, 2014

Apr 30, 2014

Mar 26, 2014

Mar 5, 2014

Oct 17, 2013

Sep 4, 2013

Aug 30, 2013

Aug 29, 2013

Looking for more? Browse all our products here