Humane Handling Educational Resources for Farmers, Ranchers, and Small Processors

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2023: $46,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipients: LL.M. Program in Food and Agricultural Law; National Center for Appropriate Technology ; Cypress Valley Meat Company ; Lauren Manning, farmer ; Ann Wells, farmer
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Kelly Nuckolls, Esq., J.D., LL.M.
LL.M. Program in Food and Agricultural Law
Susan Schneider
University of Arkansas Law School


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, processing regulations

    Proposal abstract:

    Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to processing was a significant barrier and risk for grass fed, pasture raised, and niche meat producers. A top reason sustainable agriculture producers could not access timely processing was and continues to be small plant shutdowns in the event of a humane handling violation. Small plants are shut down more frequently and for longer periods of time compared to large plants (Thistlethwaite 2021). This is partly due to the closer proximity of inspectors and the lack of regulatory support and training for small plants in comparison to larger plants. Small plants do not have teams of experts and attorneys to help them address a human handling suspension in a timely manner. As a result, these small plants might be shut down for days, weeks, or months. The impact of these shutdowns are devastating to the farm and ranch businesses that rely on scheduled slaughter and processing dates. 

    This project hopes to provide educational tools and training for farmers and processors to understand and manage their risks when it comes to humane handling regulations and preventing business shutdowns. Through a guide for farmers on humane handling regulations and issues, we hope to educate farmers about the legal requirements small slaughter and processing plants must comply with, as a number of farmers are considering more on-farm slaughter options due to the processing bottleneck. The guide will also include recommendations for farmers on next steps and preparations they can take to manage their business risks in the event of a small plant shutdown due to a humane handling violation. 

    There are also regulatory plans small plants can put into place to hopefully prevent a suspension in the event a humane handling violation occurs. Under an updated FSIS Directive, small plants can often avoid a suspension for a humane handling violation if they have an effective robust systematic approach in place and no history of multiple violations. Unfortunately, according to recent data, only 56% of very small plants and 81% of small plants have a robust systematic approach, compared to 100% of large plants (OBPA 2016). Smaller plants cited a lack of clarity from FSIS inspectors and a lack of resources as top reasons they have yet to adopt a robust systematic approach (Thistlethwaite 2021).

    Our project will include resources for smaller plants to help create and strengthen their robust systematic approach plans. We will create a support guide with Q&A and tips on how to create or strengthen a small plant’s robust systematic approach. Our team will utilize their humane handling regulatory expertise and experience with robust systematic approach plans to ensure the educational materials are targeted towards small processors for multiple species of grassfed livestock. Through these resources, we hope more small plants in Arkansas and Oklahoma will adopt their own robust systematic approach to ensure that sustainable farmers and ranchers in these states are not impacted financially by small plant shutdowns from humane handling violations.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Identify key humane handling and slaughter regulations and legal risk management tools for compliance with these regulations that will be included in the educational resources. 
    2. Construct a guide for farmers in Arkansas and Oklahoma on the humane handling and slaughter requirements for farmed animals. 
    3. Create a support guide for small processors on how to implement an effective robust systematic approach, among other tips and information. 
    4. Host a half day virtual workshop for farmers and processors in Arkansas and Oklahoma on humane handling and slaughter requirements and best practices. 
    5. Assess all educational resources’ effectiveness in helping farmers, including those exploring on-farm slaughter, and processors manage their risks when it comes to humane handling and slaughter regulatory requirements.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.