Frequently Asked Questions
Animal handling in meat plants has never been better. For more than four decades, the industry has been subject to the federal Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. Federal inspectors, who are in meat packing plants continuously, enforce this act’s requirements. Violations are noted and companies must show the federal inspectors what actions will be taken to prevent problems from occurring again.
In the last two decades, the industry initiated a number of voluntary initiatives that include enhanced animal handling training, implementation of voluntary guidelines and the use of self-audits to assess welfare and maintain continuous improvement. In addition, retail and restaurant customers have taken an increasing interest in animal welfare, creating animal welfare advisory committees and requiring animal welfare audits in order to do business.
Taken together, these developments have spurred the industry to implement new practices and to make animal welfare a top priority. The end result has been documented improvements in handling based on data collected by animal welfare expert Temple Grandin. These data can be viewed at www.grandin.com
Federal inspectors are present in meat plants at all times and are fully empowered to take action against a plant for Humane Slaughter Act violations. A range of actions may be taken depending on the seriousness of any offense. These actions can include shutting down part or all of the plant until a situation can be remedied or even withdrawing inspectors from a plant, which closes the plant. No other sector of animal agriculture is regulated and inspected for animal handling practices as thoroughly as meat packing plants.
Humane handling of livestock has many important benefits. In addition to being ethically appropriate, animals that are handled calmly and humanely produce higher quality meat. Stress hormones can cause quality problems called “bloodshot” in beef or “PSE” in pork, both of which require that parts of the meat be trimmed away. Plants with optimal animal handling produce higher quality meat.
Good animal handling also enhances safety for workers. Animals that become agitated due to rough handling can injure workers – and themselves.
Calm animals also are less likely to damage equipment – but a stressed or struggling animal might.
For these reasons, plants do everything possible to create calm, low-stress atmospheres that work with – rather than against – animals’ natural instincts. The benefits of these practices to workers, to meat quality, to equipment and most importantly to livestock are well-documented by scientific research.
The USDA seal on meat products means that the meat has been produced in compliance with federal food safety and humane handling regulations.
Small companies produce their livestock and meat using an alternative production system that some consumers prefer.
However, all meat – whether it bears the USDA seal alone or the USDA seal and additional animal welfare labels – has been subjected to federal humane handling standards and inspection.
Often the source of videos and claims are members of the animal rights movement. Animal rights groups believe that people should be vegetarians – period. They are so committed to this view, that they at times have released disturbing images and videos that have been well-publicized by the media.
In some instances, animal rights groups have supplied misleading and even edited videotapes to the news media. At times, these tapes have created questions among consumers. In the early 1990s, one group released a tape that aired on a number of television stations in the U.S. The tape was later rebutted by leading animal welfare expert Temple Grandin, Ph.D., of Colorado State University. More recently, a state attorney general investigated a videotape that was released by an animal rights organization. The state attorney general's final report determined that the video was edited and was misleading to the public and the media.
The bottom line: all USDA-inspected meat products are subject to federal humane regulations. If a product bears the USDA seal, it has met both food safety and humane regulations. Consumers should be further assured that good animal handling is good for animals -- and good for business. The U.S. meat industry recognizes this fact and has embraced voluntary animal humane handling and audit programs that supplement federal requirements and help ensure that humane handling in U.S. meat packing plants is at the best level ever.
This web site aims to be a resource to consumers with questions about animal welfare in the meat industry and aims to respond when concerns are raised by the news media. Check back for updates.