US Ag Department Sued Over Animal Welfare Rules at Slaughter

US - The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for its unreasonable delay in responding to an AWI petition - filed in May 2013 - to amend the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) to prevent incidents of inhumane handling of animals at slaughter.
calendar icon 15 December 2016
clock icon 2 minute read

AWI is asking the court to order the USDA to answer its petition, which requests that the USDA require that all slaughter establishments follow clear procedures to address animal welfare to prevent inhumane handling and slaughter.

The animal welfare organisation - represented by the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic at The George Washington University Law School - is suing the USDA under the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to respond to citizen petitions for rulemaking within a reasonable time.

AWI said that the USDA has not amended the HMSA regulations for the purpose of improving animal handling at slaughter in nearly 40 years, since the original regulations were adopted. In the intervening time, tens of thousands of incidents of inhumane handling at slaughter have been observed and documented by inspection personnel at federal and state slaughter establishments.

In 2013, AWI analysed a sample of more than 1,000 of these incidents to identify the most common causes of inhumane slaughter. This review found that the most frequent causes of inhumane incidents (not adequately addressed by current regulations) are lack of worker training in humane handling techniques, use of inappropriate stunning devices, improper shot placement, often in connection with inadequate restraint, lack of routine testing and maintenance of stunning equipment, and lack of a backup stunning device.

AWI’s petition requests that the USDA amend the HMSA regulations to address the lack of backup stunning devices, as well as the other identified causes of inhumane slaughter. AWI estimates that up to half of all inhumane handling violations could be avoided by improvements to the HMSA regulations.

“Prudence and common sense dictate that commercial slaughter establishments should not be allowed to slaughter animals unless they possess a humane handling plan, trained employees, and properly functioning equipment,” said Dena Jones, farm animal program director at AWI. “The USDA is well aware that these requirements are completely reasonable and would prevent a tremendous amount of animal suffering.”

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