The Animal Welfare Institute has given Vermont a near failing grade when it comes to enforcing humane treatment of animals at slaughterhouse facilities, but the state’s agriculture agency disagrees with the rating.
“Consumers like to think that if they do eat meat, the animals were humanely treated,” said AWI Director Dena Jones. “So, it’s important that there be a watchdog over the slaughterhouses, and that is the government, and there should be somebody that is a watchdog over the government, so that’s what we’re doing.”
The AWI report lists two main concerns that largely account for Vermont’s D-plus rating — one is the frequency of reported violations at slaughterhouses, and the other is the response to those incidents.
Jones said it highly suspicious that only three serious incidents were reported over six years.
“Are the plants just performing really, really well, or are the inspectors just not doing their jobs?” she said.
According to the report, Vermont lists one record in 2010, two records in 2014 and one in 2015.
“That means for 2011, 2012 and 2013 they didn’t do one citation at any slaughterhouse for anything to do with animal handling,” she said. “It’s just extremely unlikely that they were all operating perfectly for three years. In my experience, it’s just not possible.”
The Vermont incidents that were listed involved animals not being rendered unconscious from a single gun shot. In one case, an animal had to be shot three times, which is considered egregious under federal guidelines and can result in a shutdown.
The state’s response
Randy Quenneville, program chief of meat inspection services at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, disputes AWI’s findings. He said the National Association of State Meat Inspection Directors is preparing a response that cites inaccuracies within AWI’s report.
“Given some of the inaccuracies identified, and a lack of inclusion of some other important pieces of relative data that we have so far noted in the report, we are doing our best to understand what processes and data were used in this piece … before we comment,” Quenneville said in an email sent to Vermont Watchdog.
“To avoid a conflict of interest, the State sends the plans to a third party verification consultant for review,” Quenneville said. “The review includes evaluation of meeting the minimum requirements of the Humane Handling regulations in 9 CFR 313 as well as other components that go above and beyond those requirements.”
Quenneville said a formal response to WFI’s report will be issued later this month.
Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at [email protected]