A recent Washington Post exposé confirmed what many people already suspected: The USDA does not consistently enforce humane slaughter laws.
Dean Wyatt, a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) veterinarian, claims that FSIS managers have repeatedly ignored his reports about unsafe and inhumane slaughterhouse practices. His claims are reportedly backed up by a Government Accountability Office report showing lax enforcement of humane slaughtering standards by agency personnel.
The FSIS, the arm of the USDA that is “responsible for ensuring that the nation’s supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged,” is also supposed to verify that slaughterhouses comply with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), the only federal law that offers any sort of protection to cattle, pigs, and sheep. (Chickens, turkeys, and other birds are not protected under the HMSA, even though billions of them are slaughtered every year.)
If plants don’t comply with the HMSA, they can be suspended. According to the Washington Post exposé, Wyatt saw workers mishandling calves at a Bushway Packing plant in Vermont, and ordered the plant to suspend operations three times. FSIS officials allegedly allowed the plant to reopen following each suspension–and then they ordered Wyatt to attend training sessions.
It would appear that they wanted to “train” Wyatt to look the other way when he saw violations of the HMSA.
A video shot by an undercover member of the Humane Society of the United States, who got access to the Bushway facility, reportedly confirmed Wyatt’s allegations of widespread abuse. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack even ordered a criminal investigation or the plant as a result of the video
It should not, as Wyatt told members of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, take an undercover video from an animal protection organization to make USDA supervisors take allegations of cruelty seriously.
Unfortunately, this is often the case. PETA, for example, has conducted numerous investigations which have led to cruelty charges. (Back in July, I wrote a post about two recent factory farm investigations that resulted in landmark cruelty to animals charges.) The USDA would not have taken any action had PETA not conducted the investigations.
PETA even went undercover at a pig farm operated by Seaboard Farms—the same company that owned the Oklahoma slaughterhouse that Wyatt refers to in the Washington Post article—and caught workers kicking and bludgeoning pigs and slamming them against concrete floors. As a result of the video footage, the former manager of Seaboard Farms pleaded guilty to three counts of felony cruelty to animals.
Although Wyatt doesn’t have any expectations, he seems hopeful that USDA officials want to see some changes made. I, for one, would like to see the USDA enforce HMSA laws on factory farms too, as PETA petitioned it to nine years ago. At the very least, they should be properly enforced in slaughterhouses.
But as Wyatt’s testimony shows, we can’t count on government officials to ensure that animals raised and killed for food aren’t mistreated. If you still eat animals, please pledge to go vegan. Ultimately, that’s the only truly humane thing to do.