WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) – An animal rights group has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging the agency has ignored its petition asking for more humane treatment of livestock.

Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization, has followed the USDA’s records of incidents of inhumane slaughter under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

The act, written in 1958 and instated in 1978, states “The Congress finds that the use of humane methods in the slaughter of livestock prevents needless suffering; results in safer and better working conditions for persons engaged in the slaughtering industry; brings about improvement of products and economies in slaughtering operations; and produces other benefits for producers, processors and consumers.”

The USDA is responsible for making sure people involved in the slaughter of livestock maintain these standards. It will send an inspector to the slaughter area and can write someone up if it sees any instance of inhumane slaughter.

“The AWI is monitoring how the USDA is enforcing the law,” Michelle Pawliger, Farm Animal Policy Associate with AWI told Legal Newsline.

Annually, AWI surveys how many times an inspector has written someone up for inhumane slaughter and has been finding thousands of instances.

“We found incidents that are easily preventable are still happening,” Pawliger said.

In May 2013, AWI wrote a petition to the USDA asking for some regulations to cut down on the instances of inhumane slaughter. The petition asked for employers to have a backup plan in place in case something goes wrong during the slaughter.

In most slaughter situations, there is only one stunning device and occasionally, the animal will wake up after being stunned. The petition asked that the location have a backup stunning device so that an animal doesn’t have to wait too long and suffer before being slaughtered

The petition also asked that guidelines be posted on the premises of appropriate uses for stunning equipment and best places to stun an animal. It also asked for employees in the slaughter industries to be regularly trained on humane techniques. Finally, the petition asked that equipment used for slaughter is regularly inspected.

 After more than two and half years, the USDA had still not responded to the petition.

“We heard they just don’t want to put any regulations in place,” Pawliger said.

AWI sued the USDA, along with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service and Acting Administrator Alfred V. Almanza in December 2016 for not rendering a decision on the petition.

They claimed in the case that the nonresponse was a violation of Administrative Procedure Act and are seeking monetary damages.

“The USDA has the power to save animals from unnecessary harm and they’ve chosen to ignore that responsibility,” Pawliger said.

The USDA has still not responded to the petition despite the lawsuit. They are still within the 60-day waiting period to respond to the lawsuit, but Pawliger is certain it will have a response soon.

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