MSD Manual

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Professional Version

Humane Handling of Production Animals


Kathryn R. Polking

, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2022 | Modified Oct 2022

Concerns about animal welfare and humane slaughter are increasingly important to the production-animal industry. Slaughter facilities in the US must comply with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) of 1978 and related regulations. Inspection personnel observe and enforce these requirements, and they may take action to prevent inhumane treatment, up to and including immediate suspension of slaughter for egregious violations. Humane handling requirements under the HMSA and association regulations include handling production animals with a minimum of excitement and discomfort, as well as providing food and water, safe pens, nonslip floors, and protection from adverse weather conditions.

For the act of slaughter itself, animals must be rendered insensible to pain by a single blow; a gunshot; or an electrical, chemical, or other method that is rapid and effective before being shackled, hoisted, or cut.

Recognized ritual slaughter methods, such as halal and kosher, that cause unconsciousness via the simultaneous and instantaneous severance of the carotid arteries with a sharp instrument and resultant blood loss, are also considered acceptable methods of slaughter.

The HMSA does not apply to poultry; instead, inspectors in poultry establishments verify compliance with good commercial practices for the handling and slaughter of poultry.

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