Poor Reflections

More Transparency for Slaughter Facilities

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Animal welfare organizations use evidence of inhumane animal handling at slaughter facilities to build their case against animal agriculture as a whole. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

USDA has been ordered to be more open when it comes to publishing data on inhumane slaughter procedures across the U.S. The increased transparency is being heralded among animal-rights advocates, who will likely use the data to foster support as they build a case against animal agriculture.

Operations that slaughter production animals in the U.S. are required to routinely share records with USDA regarding the enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. It's a law that goes back to the 1950s, with the most recently passed version, and the one enforced today by USDA, having been passed in 1978. The act requires proper treatment and humane handling of all food animals slaughtered in USDA-inspected plants. Poultry handling is covered under the Poultry Inspection Act.

USDA has not always been timely in its release of this information to the public, causing groups like Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) to file complaints in court over the agency's failure to proactively disclose records under the act. These groups heralded what they called a "huge win for transparency and accountability" last week when USDA publicly agreed to disclose records tied to the treatment of animals in U.S. plants.

The agreement came as part of a settlement to release the records, approved by a federal magistrate for the U.S. District Court in New York. The judge also ordered USDA to pay all plaintiffs' attorney costs. USDA had sought to dismiss the case in 2019.

Erin Sutherland, staff attorney for AWI, said this was a big step in improving government transparency in this area of the law.

"Thousands of slaughterhouse records are now readily available to concerned citizens and animal advocacy groups who wish to monitor USDA enforcement without waiting months or even years for the department to respond to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act requests)," she said.

Farm Sanctuary's general counsel, Emily von Klemperer, added the records "routinely expose inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter facilities and are critical to our efforts to educate the public and hold the agency accountable to enforce what minimal legal protections farm animals have."

In response to questions by DTN, Farm Sanctuary's Klemperer explained the FOIA request extended to records documenting violations of slaughter regulations regarding birds, cattle and pigs. She said that because of a 2016 amendment to the FOIA, USDA is required to post frequently requested records online, but it failed to do so.

"For years, animal protection groups have frequently requested slaughter records in order to monitor USDA enforcement of slaughter regulations and produce reports, action alerts and policy recommendations based on the findings. Prior to the resolution of our case, Farm Sanctuary and the Animal Welfare Institute regularly requested the records often waited months to receive them, and then shared the information with the public. Now anyone with an internet connection can access the information as the USDA posts it quarterly."

Asked why it is important to have transparency in this area, Klemperer explained that the records do routinely expose inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter facilities.

"These records are critical to our efforts to educate the public and to hold the agency accountable to enforce what minimal legal protection farm animals have," she said. "Transparency into slaughter practices is also necessary to protect America's food supply."

Asked what they found in the most recently released records, Klemperer noted there were numerous instances in ineffective stunning of conscious animals at slaughter facilities. There were also reports of animals being deprived of food and/or water for more than 24 hours after arriving at a slaughter plant, extreme overcrowding and live birds found in barrels of dead birds.

USDA lists enforcement actions under the Act here: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/….

Last year, some 56 plants faced suspension; some have been reinstated, and some have had their suspension held in abeyance. The reasons for these suspensions, sometimes graphic and disturbing, are listed in the reports. Those operations listed on the site for the year 2021 included the following (listed from oldest to most recent suspension). Inclusion in this list is not evidence of wrongdoing, but only that USDA has acted in some way against the following operators during 2021:

Greise Brothers Packing Inc., F.B. Purnell Sausage Co. Inc., Horst Meats, Wagner Meats LLC, Meatworks, Valley Oaks Meats LLC, North Dakota State University Meat Laboratory, Carlton Packing Company, AEE Inc. DBA Emory's Processing, Yoder Brothers Meat Processing, Missouri Prime Beef Packers, Gold Medal Packing Inc., Fauquier's Finest Custom Meat Processing Inc., Sioux-Preme Packing Co., Albion Locker, Quapaw Food Services Authority, Northwoods Locker LLC, Western Meat Processing Inc., Double J Lamb Inc., Roanoke Packing Company, Marfa Meats LLC, Alex Froehlich Packing Company, J&J Hazen Meats, Swift Pork Company; Ali International, Inc.; Seaboard Foods, LLC; Goldsby Meat Co. LLC, Prairie Meats Inc., M.L. Mitchell and Son Meat Processing, American Halal Meat, Cuba Processing Plant LLC, Smithfield Packaged Meats Co., The Farm Abattoir LLC, Kiowa Locker System LLC, Seabord Triumph Foods, Vallia Foods LLC, Huetti's Locker & Dressing Plant, Genuine Meats LLC, South 40 Farms LLC, The Butcher Shop at Hyde Farms, Tonkawa Processing Corp., Northstar Meat LLC, Haass' Family Butcher Shop Inc., Nordik Meats Inc., Long Prairie Packing Company LLC, Smithfield Fresh Meats Corp., Chenoa Locker Inc., Tran Meat Corporation, Puget Sound Processing LLC, Gunnoe Sausage Company Inc., Abattoir Associates Inc., ZYK Enterprises Inc., IQRA Meat Packaging LLC, Booth Creek Wagyu, Boone's Abattoir LLC, and IDA-Beef LLC.

Victoria Myers can be reached at vicki.myers@dtn.com

Victoria Myers