WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2013 – USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) yesterday released advance notice of a new guidance on humane handling of livestock. The document includes voluntary guidelines meant to assist producers “in minimizing excitement, discomfort and accidental injury,” according to the agency.

The guidance document provides industry with a list of voluntary best practices. While not mandatory, they ask producers to provide written procedures and records to be made available for FSIS review.

FSIS says it is releasing the document after members of the agriculture sector requested further direction on humane handling in their operations.

The guidance includes a sample assessment tool that should help producers pass FSIS inspections, the agency says. Those inspections cover areas like water and feed availability, ante-mortem inspection and electric prod use. (FSIS prohibits “excessive prodding” and the use of sharp objects.)

“The guidance is one example of our commitment to the humane treatment of animals. We continue to implement improvements so that we have the best system possible,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza after the document’s release.

Because the guidance has yet to be actually published in the Federal Register, Dave Warner of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) says his group is withholding comment until it sees a final copy. He said he was sure, however, that NPPC would provide input during the comment period.

This is just the latest humane handling adjustment for FSIS, which was cited in a 2010 Government Accountability Office report for “inconsistent” enforcement of its humane slaughter laws. Since then, the agency has been working on an “effective systematic approach to humane handling,” said a spokesperson.

A May USDA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit meant to evaluate FSIS’ enforcement of humane handling laws resulted in a better grade for the agency. “The OIG determination shows that FSIS’ enforcement of humane handling regulations, as well as its appeals process, is fair and consistent,” wrote Under Secretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen when the departmental watchdog published the report this spring.


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