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WASHINGTON - Changes are being made in U.S. slaughterhouses following accusations from the fast-food industry and animal rights groups. Seventeen veterinarians are being hired to make sure slaughterhouses are treating livestock humanely, while the Agriculture Department is creating an electronic database to track violations, The Associated Press reported on Friday. Historically the department kept such records only on paper.
Burger King made accusations against the Agriculture Department this summer, saying that inspectors weren't properly enforcing a 1978 law that requires livestock to be rendered unconscious before they are bled and skinned.
Both the Senate and House have passed resolutions urging tougher enforcement and put $1 million in a supplemental spending bill earlier this year to pay for it.
"We still believe it's being enforced," Carol Blake, a spokeswoman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, told the AP. Hiring new veterinarians to oversee the plants "will provide extra insurance," she noted.
Critics of the department say more inspectors are needed to look for violations at plants.
Following an example set by McDonald's, restaurant chains are now performing their own inspections. Slaughterhouses that fail are dropped as suppliers.
Burger King said in June that it would start an inspection program but also petitioned USDA to improve its own enforcement.
Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, told the AP that the industry has made dramatic improvements in animal handling. "Our members have been so conscientious about animal welfare that we are not especially concerned about additional oversight," she said