Responding to a Department of Agriculture report, the American Veterinary Medical Assn. on Dec. 12 called for increased veterinary oversight of preslaughter activities at U.S. meat plants.
The USDA Office of the Inspector General report followed an investigation of the Hallmark/Westland beef recall this year. Investigators examined the history of Food Safety and Inspection Service inspections at Hallmark/Westland and at 10 other facilities, which slaughter older dairy or beef cows removed from the herd for various reasons, usually because of decreased production.
The report indicated, among other things, too few veterinarians in inspection positions.
“This report proves that personnel from the front-line supervisor to the public health veterinarian were overtasked and they could not keep up with all of the inspection procedures they were charged with carrying out,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The public health veterinarian at the Hallmark/Westland plant was by himself, where before, there were two veterinarians assigned to the plant.
“If the Food Safety and Inspection Service does not assign a sufficient number of inspectors, supervisors and veterinarians and provide the training they require, we take a gamble with food safety and the humane treatment and slaughter of animals,” Harkin said. “These are serious shortcomings in deployment of (Inspection Service) personnel, proper training of them, and utilization and adequacy of USDA food safety budget resources.”
The AVMA says the report reaffirms its stance that the Inspection Service hire more veterinarians to fill vacancies and create more veterinary positions to adequately enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. The AVMA also encourages greater use of the Inspection Service’s authority to repay student loan debt.
“Americans are concerned about the welfare of farm animals,” said W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, the association’s chief executive officer. "But without enough veterinarians on the farms or at the slaughterhouses to do these jobs, it becomes difficult to meet the standards that we as a society demand.
“The federal government must take big, bold steps to increase veterinary oversight in meat processing to prevent the animal welfare violations that caused the Hallmark/Westland recall from repeating themselves.”
The AVMA is pursuing funding and implementation of the National Veterinary Medical Service Act, a loan repayment program that would place veterinarians in underserved areas of the profession. It also is working for passage of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act, a bill that would provide veterinary schools with competitive grants to increase capacity in these shortage areas.