The revelations from the Hallmark/Westland Packing Company fiasco should strike echoes in our own industry. The HSUS is ubiquitous with no shortage of activists to video and document presumed or flagrant abuses of welfare. Reports of obvious deficiencies in FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) supervision over the receiving end of red meat plants suggests that management must ensure compliance with good processing practice. This is independent of the recent decision by Judge Marilyn Patel in the Federal District Court in San Francisco, Calif., in an action brought by HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) against FSIS. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, enacted in 1958 makes a distinction between “livestock” and “poultry” and does not apply to chickens and turkeys. Despite this legal nicety, the "court of public opinion" will prevail in the event of an episode involving a poultry plant.

To the credit of the USDA-FSIS, the agency has moved with unaccustomed speed to implement intensified control over handling and slaughter of animals. Inspectors will have more time to inspect ante-mortem procedures and will be required to conduct irregular reviews of ongoing activities. The Humane Activities Tracking System Program will be evaluated to ensure relevance to the workplace. It is to be assumed that HSUS will continue in-plant surveillance and that in turn the FSIS will be preemptive in monitoring handling, shackling, stunning and slaughter.

The risk to our Industry in the event of demonstrated cruelty or unacceptable handling will be severe. A disproportionate response will occur following any episode since the media, critics of intensive animal production and legislators are sensitized to the issue. The inference is therefore that we should ensure that plant managers emphasize a culture of welfare over cost considerations. Appropriate standard procedures should be followed with sanctions and discipline for deviations. Supervisors should be retrained and capable of maintaining workflow in compliance with principles of humane operation. This requires correct operation of stunners and neck cutters, and care in shackling.

It is indeed upsetting when a related industry evokes negative attention but it will be even more serious if a major broiler or turkey integrator is implicated in a plant welfare episode. Self-regulation is always preferable to government regulation and accordingly internal evaluation and correction of any undesirable practices would be prudent.