Progress and challenges in animal handling and slaughter in the U.S.
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Both well-designed equipment and trained employees are required to maintain a high standard of animal welfare during slaughter. When McDonald's Corporation started auditing U.S. beef and pork slaughter plants in 1999, there were great improvements in handling and stunning. They used a numerical objective scoring system. It contained five basic measurements: (1) the percentage of animals stunned on the first attempt, (2) percentage rendered insensible prior to hoisting, (3) percentage vocalizing during handling and stunning, (4) percentage that fall down and (5) percentage moved with an electric goad. Each variable was scored on a simple yes/no basis. Baseline data was collected prior to the McDonald's audits in 1996. The most striking improvements were in beef. The average effective first shot stunning score was 89.5% in 1996, 96.2% in 1999 and 98.6% 5 years later in 2003. The average percentage of cattle vocalizing during stunning and handling was 8% in 1996, 2.4% in 1999 and 2.0% in 2003. A total of 50 plants were audited. Most plants were able to greatly improve welfare by improving stunner maintenance; installing non-slip floor gratings in stun boxes and better training. They also had to make simple, low cost changes to eliminate distractions that cause animals to balk and refuse to move. The most common ways to improve animal movement were: (1) install a lamp on a dark race entrance, (2) move ceiling lamps to eliminate sparkling reflections, (3) muffle air hissing, (4) install shields and solid sides on races to prevent animals from seeing moving people up ahead and (5) eliminate air drafts that blow in the faces of approaching animals. A major remaining problem area is in plants that are not in a program of yearly audits by restaurants. Serious animal abuse has occurred in some of these non-audited plants.