The measures aim to improve the handling of cattle, ranging from enhanced employee training to clearer guidance on existing rules, said Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.
The new directives from the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service are the direct result of cows too sick to stand at the now-defunct Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse in Chino.
The findings, which came to light after an undercover video was released by the Humane Society of the United States, led to the largest nationwide beef recall in the country.
"Consumers need to be confident our inspectors have the direction they need to ensure that humane slaughter is carried out properly," USDA administrator Al Almanza said.
The USDA's most noteworthy change involves slaughterhouse veterinary inspectors having to ensure that cattle too sick to stand be condemned and properly euthanized.
Some slaughterhouse officials had interpreted previous regulations to mean that all cows could be slaughtered if they were able to walk into the facility, said Gene Baur, president of the New York-based animal advocate group Farm Sanctuary.
"There used to be circumstances where downed animals could be used for food, and now the clarification is they cannot," Baur said. "If they go down, they must be condemned and euthanized."
Other USDA measures:
- Enhanced training will provide inspection personnel with more practical, situation-based training.
- The USDA Office of the Inspector General will audit industry appeals of noncompliance records.
- An ombudsman who specializes in humane handling issues will be appointed in the Office of Food Safety.
"The establishment of an ombudsman should help protect whistleblowers and others seeking to ensure industry compliance with the laws," said Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president and CEO.
National Meat Association officials will review the new measures, specifically for the additional costs they will have on the meat industry.
"We don't have details yet, but these certainly will affect our members, and we'll want to take a closer look," association spokesman Jeremy Russell said.
The USDA since 2008 have implemented a number of measures to strengthen the humane handling of beef cattle and created two dozen new humane handling enforcement jobs.
The USDA in October issued guidelines to assist meat and poultry establishments that want to improve compliance through video surveillance of plant operations. Baur said the USDA should go further.
"The USDA has provided this as an option to provide some oversight at slaughterhouses, which we think is a positive step in the right direction, but we want to see mandatory video surveillance and more transparency in food production generally at slaughterhouses but also at farms where animals are being raised," Baur said. "People would be very surprised to see what's happening."