We’ve often talked about the abuse and the cruelty to farm animals at the nation’s mainstream slaughterhouses, but we haven’t talked much about the custom-exempt slaughterhouses. A custom-exempt slaughter facility is a slaughter facility that does not have a state or federal inspector on duty, which means that the meats from these facilities are not considered state or federally-inspected meats. Custom-exempt plants serve hunters who want to process wild animal carcasses; they also slaughter cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats for anyone who wants meat for themselves, their household, or nonpaying guests. The “exempt” signifies that these operations are excused from continuous inspection, unlike facilities subject to state and federal inspection where government officials are on the premises whenever slaughter is being conducted.
A petition delivered to the USDA recently on behalf of the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) reported that the US Department of Agriculture consistently fails to review and respond to animal welfare violations at custom-exempt slaughter facilities, resulting in animals being beaten, held in deplorable conditions, and deprived of food and water for extended periods.
“AWI is unfortunately accustomed to uncovering and witnessing the most egregious forms of animal abuse; the treatment of custom slaughtered farm animals surely ranks among the worst,” said Dena Jones, AWI’s farm animal program director.
It calls on the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to thoroughly revise its directive pertaining to custom-exempt slaughter to better protect animals, avoid misleading the public, report suspected animal cruelty to state authorities, and close loopholes that allow facilities suspended for egregious humane handling violations to continue slaughtering animals under their custom status, among other recommendations.
Back in 2009, the FSIS instructed its personnel to apply the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires the humane treatment and handling of certain food animals at slaughter, to custom-exempt slaughter facilities. Despite that directive and two subsequent revisions, the AWI report concludes that the “FSIS does not apply the HMSA to custom-exempt slaughter in any meaningful way.”
Let’s hope that the FSIS take action on this critical gap in their oversight of these facilities.