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17 June 2001 Issue
Meat Inspectors Say USDA Ignores Humane Slaughter Act

from Jai Maharaj - jai@mantra.com 

http://www.mantra.com/jai 

Washington, Friday, June 15, 2001 (Reuters) - Federal meat inspectors and animal rights groups on Wednesday accused the U.S. Agriculture Department of allowing packers to slaughter cattle and hogs while still conscious, despite regulations mandating livestock be killed humanely.

The coalition representing 6,700 meat inspectors sent a petition to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman urging broader authority to enforce the Humane Slaughter Act (HSA).

Under the act, all animals must be humanely handled and "stunned" unconscious prior to being hoisted up on the production line.

"We are the people who are charged by Congress with enforcing HSA, but most of our inspectors have little to no access to those areas of the plants where animals are being handled and slaughtered," said Arthur Hughes, president of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals.

The most brutal of these violations, the meat inspectors said, were caused by ineffective stunning -- causing cattle to be dismembered and hogs to be scalded while still conscious.

Chris Church, spokesman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said they take violations of the Humane Slaughter Act "very seriously."

"It is the meat inspectors responsibility to enforce these requirements," he said. "They have full authority to take any action necessary including stopping the slaughter lines."

USDA officials said the department has bimonthly meetings with the union of meat inspectors and complaints over humane slaughter has never been discussed.

Church said accusations in the petition were based primarily on complaints about an IBP Inc. beef plant in Wallula, Washington.

IBP spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company disputes the meat inspectors' claims, pointing out that a recent state investigation on livestock mishandling at the Wallula plant resulted in no charges.

IBP and the state of Washington announced in April a cooperative agreement that allows state officials to continuously verify the plant is properly handling livestock, Mickelson said.

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