The petition, filed in May 2013, was designed to amend the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) in order to prevent incidents of inhumane handling and the needless suffering of animals at slaughter.
AWI is now asking the court to order the USDA to answer its petition, which requested that the USDA require all slaughter establishments to follow clear procedures in addressing animal welfare to prevent inhumane handling and slaughter.
Being represented by the Public Justice Advocacy Clinic at The George Washington University Law School, AWI is suing the USDA under the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires agencies to respond to citizen petitions for rule-making within a reasonable amount of time.
“The USDA is shirking its duty as a regulatory agency by refusing to initiate rule-making to amend the HMSA, particularly when many of the causes of inhumane slaughter are well-known and easily addressed,” commented Dena Jones, farm animal program director at AWI.
HMSA regulations have not yet been amended by the USDA to improve animal handling and slaughter in almost 40 years since the original regulations were adopted.
According to AWI, tens of thousands of incidents of inhumane handling at slaughter have been observed and documented by inspection personnel at deferral and state slaughter establishments.
Boar shot at Pennsylvania plant
More than 1,000 of these incidents were analysed by AWI in 2013, with the aim of identifying the most common causes of inhumane slaughter. The most frequent causes of inhumane incidents identified were: a lack of training in humane handling techniques; the use of inappropriate stunning devices; improper shot placement, often in connection with inadequate restraint; lack of routine testing and maintenance of stunning equipment; and the lack of back-up stunning devices.
AWI highlighted an incident in September, which saw a federal slaughter plant in Pennsylvania unsuccessfully render a boar with a rifle three times, with the animal vocally in distress following each shot to the wound. As the plant did not have the necessary back-up stunning device available, one of the employees reportedly drove home to retrieve a rifle, returning 10 minutes later to finally put the animal to ease.
The petition asked the USDA to adjust the HMSA regulations to address the lack of back-up stunning devices and to identify other causes of inhumane slaughter. AWI estimated that up to half of all inhumane handling violations could be avoided if the improvements to the HMSA were enforced.
“Prudence and common sense dictate that commercial slaughter establishments should not be allowed to slaughter animals unless the possess a humane handling plan, trained employees, and properly functioning equipment,” added Jones. “The USDA is well aware that these requirements are completely reasonable and would prevent a tremendous amount of animal suffering.”