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Baby Steps: USDA Tiptoes Toward Fighting Animal Cruelty

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Farm Issues page, Factory Farm page, and our USDA Watch page.

The embattled livestock of our severely broken food system recently won a small victory. The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced updated and more vigorous rules for federal inspectors to combat inhumane treatment of animals at USDA-inspected facilities. The rules go into effect Sept. 15 and will require personnel to:

 ... ensure that treatment of livestock during handling and slaughter minimizes the animal's amount of excitement, pain, injury or discomfort. Notably, this directive includes a definition for "egregious inhumane treatment". Under this definition, an egregious situation is any act or condition that results in severe harm to animals, which includes the excessive beating or prodding of disabled livestock, stunning animals and allowing them to regain consciousness, or any treatment causing unnecessary pain and suffering.

Why the change? It appears that the recent set of undercover videos produced from within slaughterhouses and livestock facilities got the attention of more than just food reformers. Indeed, I think it's fair to say that this rule change would not have happened if not for tireless efforts of groups like the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals.

The meat industry played an unwitting part, too -- by pursuing so-called "ag-gag" laws that backfired. The debate over inhumane treatment of animals wouldn't have achieved such prominence if not for the push by meat industry lobbyists for bills in several states that would have outlawed the videos that helped push the USDA to make regulatory improvements. All the bills failed, and the ensuing public relations fiasco only heightened awareness of the need for and benefits of transparency in our food production system.