The recall of over 143,000,000 pounds of raw and frozen meat products by a California meat processor in February is forcing the US regulatory authorities to act and reassure the public about the safety of the US food supply.
The recall followed an investigation by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), after video-evidence from the Humane Society of the United States showed slaughter house workers forcing crippled cattle onto their feet and into the food chain.
The Humane Society's video footage led to fears that the use of crippled cattle could increase the risk of human exposure to Mad Cow Disease and other pathogens
FSIS Reassurance Initiative
To help reassure the public and other bodies that the US food supply is in good hands and that US meat is safe to eat the FSIS published a factsheet on its website earlier this month about its role in assuring food safety and an updated question and answer brief about the beef recall incident.
The FSIS repeatedly confirms that operations at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company will remain suspended until it has responded to the Notice of Suspension and submitted a corrective action plan to address its failure to properly implement the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and FSIS regulations.
The FSIS said it believes "this to be an isolated incident of egregious violations to humane handling requirements and the prohibition of non-ambulatory disabled cattle from entering the food supply."
With regard to further actions taken, the FSIS assures that it has begun to "verify and thoroughly analyze" humane handling activities in all federally inspected establishments. This will include an increase in the time allocated per shift to verify handling activities and increased surveillance.
Humane Handling Documentation
The FSIS has reissued the instructions contained in FSIS Notice 12-05, Documentation of Humane Handling Activities. It provides new instruction for Public Health Veterinarians (PHVs) and other inspection programme personnel to conduct humane handling activities randomly throughout their tour of duty.
The document says that PHVs and other inspection programme personnel are to "vary from day-to-day the time during the tour of duty that they perform their activities to verify that animals are treated humanely".
Each slaughter shift they are to make observations under the Humane-handling Activities Tracking System (HATS) which come under the Electronic Animal Disposition Report System (eADRS) under Category IV, Handling During Ante Mortem Inspection.
They have to verity one or more HATs categories through each slaughter shift and ensure that all categories are verified routinely. Inspection personnel should focus on complete and quality verifications of each category.
HATS (established in 2004) records the time inspection programme personnel spend on humane handling related activities and seperates that time into nine categories, such as handling of suspect and disabled livestock, electric prod/alternative object use, and water and feed availability.
Under the reissued instruction PHVs are also now set to encourage establishments to develop and implement a systematic approach for the humane handling of animals.
In a statement FSIS said that it intends to review the HATS programme to determine what if any adjustments are needed to maximise its utility as a tracking tool to improve compliance.
The statement also said that surveillance and inspection activities will be focused at establishments where older or potentially distressed animals are slaughtered to make the best use of resources to ensure food safety.