10/24/2013 01:46 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2013

Humane Treatment of Animals

Strolling down the grocery aisle, the shopper may not be aware of the many safeguards in place to ensure that the neatly packaged chicken, roasts, pork chops and ground meat are wholesome and safe and that the animals presented for slaughter have been treated humanely. While the motions of slaughter may be unsettling, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) believes that humane treatment is the respect that all animals deserve.

Humane handling has increasingly become an important issue to the American public, and rightly so. The discerning public demands that the animals that go into those packages on our shelves are treated humanely before giving their lives to our service. Producers must follow federal laws and regulations for humane treatment. I have witnessed first hand the agency's improved approach to humane handling, and I am proud to be part of this transformation.

As FSIS' recently appointed Humane Handling Enforcement Coordinator (HHEC), I am working to ensure a systematic approach to humane handling becomes universal in the establishments we regulate. This new approach improves the plant's ability to handle and slaughter animals humanely by identifying and fixing steps that may cause excitement, discomfort or accidental injury to the animals.

Since my appointment in February, I have focused on increasing industry awareness of the systematic approach, a measure initiated by FSIS to help plants comply with humane handling regulations and improve their overall humane treatment of animals in their care. I feel confident in saying that momentum is on an upswing. Since 2008, we have increased the number of slaughter establishments using a systematic approach from 28 to 51 percent.

To keep this momentum going, the agency has released a Compliance Guide for a Systematic Approach to Humane Handling of Livestock. This new guidance will be particularly helpful for small and very small slaughter establishments to address humane handling issues. As more establishments adopt these practices, the treatment of animals will be more consistent across the nation.

In addition to this new guidance, the agency has equipped inspectors and veterinarians with practical, situation-based training to improve the enforcement of humane handling requirements at hundreds of slaughter establishments across the country. FSIS also established a team of 15 District Veterinary Medical Specialists (DVMS), who evaluate plant facilities, equipment and employees to ensure animals are treated humanly. These DVMSs report directly to me, and we work as a team to address humane handling issues more consistently nationwide.

As a veterinarian, I have always been passionate about the humane treatment of animals. That is why I am a proud member of the FSIS team. FSIS believes that humane treatment of animals for food is legally and ethically necessary, and these animals must be treated with the respect prior to arriving at our dinner tables.