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Humane slaughter must be enforced

This ran on Easter Sunday 2001 in the Tacoma News Tribune:

Humane slaughter must be enforced

"They blink. They make noises. The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around."

Those are the words of Ramon Moreno, who works at the enormous IBP slaughterhouse situated near the Columbia River southeast of Pasco. His job is cutting hocks off carcasses, but the "carcasses" in question are actually living steers - animals that were not properly stunned or killed before being skinned, de-hooved and dismembered. Moreno told the Washington Post that too many cattle - and even one would be too many -Êwere still conscious well into the process of being slaughtered.

One doesn't have to be an animal-rights advocate to be outraged that livestock are subjected to such inhumane treatment on their way to the dinner plate. Yet the Post's investigation found numerous instances in which high-volume slaughterhouses failed to consistently comply with the federal law that requires cattle and hogs to be rendered insensible to pain before they are slaughtered. One of the apparent offenders was the IBP complex in Wallula where Moreno works, which processes upwards of 300 animals an hour - dead or alive.

The problem is at least partly a result of lax federal enforce-ment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture routinely sends inspectors into the nation's slaughterhouses, but the emphasis is on preventing the contamination of meat, not ensuring that slaughter is carried out in as humane a way as possible. Enforcement has become more lax in the last three years as the USDA has turned over more inspection responsibility to companies like IBP. Examining USDA reports, the Post found many allegations of slaughterhouses failing to stun animals - but very few cases in which the agency had actually penalized companies for inhumane practices.

Curiously enough, the most effective enforcement in recent years seems to be coming from the McDonald's Corp., which is insisting that its beef be slaughtered humanely. McDonald's sends its own inspectors into dozens of slaughterhouses each year, often on a surprise basis. Such is the company's buying power that plant managers are anxious to keep it happy.

There is something fundamentally wrong when a chain of fast-food restaurants demonstrates more concern for the treatment of livestock than the federal agency charged by law with the enforcement of humane slaughtering practices. A nation that values decency as much as it enjoys beef and pork ought to be able to ensure its cattle and hogs are dead before they are butchered.

© The Washington Post


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