The Humane Slaughter Act, or the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act (P.L. 85-765; 7 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.) is a United States federal law designed to decrease suffering of livestock during slaughter. It was approved on August 27, 1958. The most notable of these requirements is the need to have an animal completely sedated and insensible to pain. This is to minimize the suffering to the point where the animal feels nothing at all, instead losing a consciousness from which they will never awaken. This differs from animal to animal as size increases and decreases. Larger animals such as bovines require a stronger method than chickens, for example. Bovines require electronarcosis or something equally potent, though electronarcosis remains a standard. The bovine would have a device placed on their head that, once activated, sends an electric charge that efficiently and safely stuns them. Chickens, on the other hand, require much less current to be efficiently sedated and are given a run under electrically charged water. To ensure that these guidelines are met, The Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors at slaughtering plants are responsible for overseeing compliance, and have the authority to stop slaughter lines and order plant employees to take corrective actions. Although more than 168 million chickens (excluding broilers) and around 9 billion broiler chickens are killed for food in the United States yearly, the Humane Slaughter Act specifically mentions only cattle, calves, horses, mules, sheep and swine.
Due to several reports of alleged non-compliance with these regulations and safety protocols, originating in the early 2000s, specifically late 2002, FSIS assigned additional veterinarians to its district offices specifically to monitor slaughter and handling procedures and to report to their headquarters about any issues of compliance. This has been the case ever since, as Congress passed a bill in 2002, The 2002 farm bill, that requires a compliance report to be submitted annually. In 2003, the initiative increased further as, in the FY in 2003, Congress voted in another $5 million operation to the FSIS effort and increased the amount of compliance inspectors by 50. Language in the FY 2004 consolidated appropriations act directs FSIS to continue fulfilling that mandate, and the FY2005 budget request calls for another $5 million to be allocated for enforcement activities. Despite these requirements in place, reports from January 2004 GAO have noted that there is still alleged non-compliance. These were narrowed down to select states that issues of non-compliance still allegedly persist (GAO-04-247). Earlier concerns about humane treatment of non-ambulatory (downer) cattle at slaughter houses became irrelevant when FSIS issued regulations in January 2004 (69 FR 1892) prohibiting them from being slaughtered and inspected for use as human food.
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