On September 12, 1980, the Food Safety and Quality Service requested information on the humane watering needs of livestock. The action was taken in response to industry petitions that questioned a departmental regulation that requires water to be available for animals in holding pens at slaughter establishments. The Agency has determined that the regulations requiring that water be available is holding pens will remain in effect, but notes that compliance with the regulations will not necessarily impose burdensome costs on the industry.
ACTION: Notice of decision not to propose rulemaking.
SUMMARY: On September 12, 1980, the Food Safety and Quality Service requested information on the humane watering needs of livestock. The action was taken in response to industry petitions that questioned a departmental regulation that requires water to be available for animals in holding pens at slaughter establishments. Letters from industry generally voiced concern about the cost and need for installing watering facilities in livestock holding pens, while comments from other segments of society supported the requirements. The Agency has determined that the regulations requiring that water be available is holding pens will remain in effect, but notes that compliance with the regulations will not necessarily impose burdensome costs on the industry.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Dr. John C. Prucha, Director, Slaughter Inspection Standards and Procedures Division, Technical Services, Meat and Poultry Inspection Program, Food Safety and Quality Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC 20250, (202) 447-3219.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On November 30, 1979, the Food Safety and Quality Service (ESQS) published final regulations (44 FR 68809-68817, 9 CFR Part 313) to adopt humane slaughtering and handling practices with respect to livestock in accordance with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 (Pub. L. 95- 445, Sec. 21 U.S.C. 603, 610, 620). During the development of those regulations, the Department considered comments suggesting that animals have feed and water available as soon as they arrive at the holding pens of the slaughter establishment. As finalized, the regulations require that water be made available in all holding pens and that feed also be provided in all holding pens if the animal is to be retained longer than 24 hours before slaughter. No comments were received suggesting that there be an option of withholding water from cattle for a period of time prior to slaughter.
Since the regulations were finalized, FSQS has received a petition from Iowa Beef Processors, Inc., requesting that cattle be allowed to be held at the slaughter establishment without water for up to 24 hours before slaughter when this is specified in a sales contract. The petition states that this is a common and traditional method used in the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter. Under such a contract, the cattle are consigned to and in the custody of the slaughterer, but do not become his property until after the contracted period without feed and water and subsequent weighing. After the weighing, the cattle are slaughtered or returned to pens and watered.
Furthermore, the American Association of Meat Processors has requested that the present requirement for water in pens be changed to allow animals which are to be slaughtered within 24 hours to be withheld from water. It cites the difficulty of keeping pipes thawed in the winter and the maintenance of the drinking troughs and pipes. It claims that animals will not drink in strange surroundings unless they are extremely thirsty and, therefore, are not being mistreated if water is not immediately available.
On September 12, 1980, FSQS published in the Federal Register (45 FR 60448) a notice seeking information to assist the Department in evaluating these petitions. By the close of the comment period, the Department had received 636 comments and approximately 200 additional comments after the November 12, 1980, deadline. Comments were received from 37 operators of slaughtering establishments, 4 meat industry associations, 21 humane organizations, 3 State meat inspection officials, 2 universities, and 569 private citizens. These comments are on file in the Regulations Coordination Division, Food Safety and Quality Service, Room 2637, South Agriculture Building, Washington, DC 20250, and are available for public viewing between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Responses from 581 people favored providing water to livestock at the slaughter establishments. Generally, these commenters contended that the withholding of water from animals prior to slaughter was inhumane and unjustified, and that water should be available to these animals at all times.
Forty-seven commenters favored withholding water from livestock at slaughtering establishments, primarily on the basis that it would be economically beneficial to both the industry and consumers due to the expense in providing water and watering facilities, and the maintenance necessary for the watering facilities. Several responses indicated that withholding water from livestock to be slaughtered within 24 hours would not have any adverse effect on the livestock nor the meat quality.
A University of Missouri scientist sent two research papers for consideration without expressing an opinion, and seven comments did not address the subject in question.
The comments do not provide information adequate to support any conclusion concerning the watering requirements of livestock on their way to slaughter. Only three comments made reference to research conducted on livestock watering and deprivation of water. Most of this research applied to cattle under feedlot and range conditions and cannot be directly related to the short-term humane holding of livestock at slaughter establishments. Two research papers dealt with the amount of weight lost by cattle during various lengths of transportation and water deprivation. This information does not relate to the question of humane holding of animals for slaughter.
Certain conclusions can be drawn from the research conducted on feedlot and range cattle about how much water is consumed under different climatic conditions and frequency of drinking. Cattle drink about three times a day and consume from 2.5 to 12 gallons daily. This shows that cattle consume large amounts of water, but since this data applies to growing and fattening animals, it does not have any direct bearing on what is, in fact, humane in regard to watering. FSQS conducted a literature search for relevant information that would clarify the humane aspects of livestock watering. Unfortunately, the search was unsuccessful as the available information does not appear adequate to determine if less than free access to water would be humane.
The information gleaned from the literature only confounded the issue more. For example:
1. There is an apparent difference between species on the amount of water deprivation each can experience without obvious discomfort. Cattle and swine have little adaptation to lack of water and need supplemental water for survival. Sheep have a higher tolerance for lack of water than do cattle and swine.
2. Individual animals of the same species may have different water needs depending on their state of health and the length of time since their last drink. In view of the variations in water needs between species and individuals within species, assessing when and how water should be made available to livestock for humane reasons becomes very difficult.
Therefore, the Agency concludes that these comments have not provided a sufficient basis for changing the requirements in 9 CFR 313.2(e) that animals shall have access to water in all holding pens. The Department will enforce its regulations under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act as promulgated.
However, FSQS wishes to allay any concerns on the part of the livestock industry that unreasonable and unnecessary expenses will be imposed as a result of the access to water requirement. Many of the comments from industry reflect a concern about the need to install expensive, permanent plumbing in all facilities. The Agency notes that the regulations specify that access to water must be provided only in holding pens. Holding pens refer to those facilities in which animals are held for significant periods of time. The provisions would not apply to those areas to which animals are delivered for prompt slaughter. For example, water would not be required for alleyways or corridors used to facilitate the handling of animals near the slaughtering facility. Further, low volume operations may not need to install permanent plumbing in holding pens. If containers of water are available, the requirement would be complied with. The manner in which water reaches the containers is not specified by the regulations. In sum, compliance with § 313.2(e) will be assessed not merely on the basis of whether plumbing or water containers are installed, but rather will also take into account the animal handling practices and the volume of animals being processed at each facility.
Done at Washington, D.C., on April 20, 1981.
L. L. Gast,
Acting Administrator, Food Safety and Quality Service.