Government Oversight and Inspection
Congress passed a federal Humane Slaughter Act in 1958 that applied to plants supplying the government with meat. In 1978, the law was expanded to apply to all federally inspected meat plants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued regulations to implement the law that require:
- That livestock be provided with water at all times and also feed, if they are held at a plant longer than 24 hours.
- That livestock not be dragged.
- That livestock be made “insensible” (unconscious) to pain prior to slaughter through the use of any of a number of stunning methods such as gunshot, captive bolt stunner, electrical current stunner or CO2 gas. (The only exception to this requirement occurs in Kosher and Halal slaughter where no stun is applied)
The videos below depict these different stunning methods.
- Cattle Stunning with Dr. Temple Grandin
- Penetrating Captive Bolt Stunner by Jarvis
- Non-Penetrating Captive Bolt Stunner by Jarvis
- Electric Stunning of Pigs and Sheep with Dr. Temple Grandin
- Carbon Dioxide Stunning of Pigs with Dr. Temple Grandin
Federal inspectors are present in slaughter plants continuously. Federal veterinarians conduct “ante-mortem” inspections on live animals to ensure that they are healthy and fit for food. Inspectors also monitor the stunning process to ensure it is effective. In addition, inspectors monitor for any violations of the law, like failure to provide water to livestock at all times, dragging a conscious animal or any other form of rough or stressful handling.
Depending upon the severity of the infraction, an inspector may issue a non-compliance report, which documents the issues; a Notice of Intended Enforcement (NOIE), which permits a plant three days to remedy a problem or face a suspension of operations; or, for the most severe infractions, an immediate suspension. When a suspension occurs, a plant may not operate until it has satisfied the agency that it has taken all appropriate steps to correct the problem and prevent it from recurring.
USDA publishes quarterly enforcement reports that summarize enforcement actions taken for a variety of reasons in addition to humane slaughter violations. USDA also publishes Humane Handling Enforcement Actions (NOIEs and Suspensions only) within a few weeks of issuance. One word of caution: USDA/FSIS permits appeals of actions and does grant appeals with some frequency; however, once an action is posted, it can take a significant amount of time to get it removed when an appeal is granted. Therefore, this list is not always completely current and accurate.