As the slaughterhouse accused of egregious humane handling violations remains unable to process meat after the U.S. Department of Agriculture withdrew inspectors from the plant over the weekend, three Central California Republican congressman are urging Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to “immediately” allow the company to operate again.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Reps. Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham said in a letter Thursday that keeping the plant shut down serves “no legitimate interest” and harms the plant workers at a time when the community has double digit unemployment.
Though an undercover video shows mistreatment of spent dairy cows, including some that appear lame or injured, USDA said Wednesday there is no evidence that so-called “downer” animals were slaughtered for human consumption. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s investigation is ongoing.
“The investigation can and should continue, but does not necessitate a prolonged and economically disastrous full stoppage of operations,” wrote the congressmen in their letter. “Furthermore, your agency should more aggressively clarify the fact that our food supply is not – and never was – in jeopardy as a result of this alleged violation.”
On his blog, Rep. Nunes blasted Compassion Over Killing, the advocacy group that went undercover, as “extremists who are actively working to undermine production agriculture in the United States.” Nunes said local residents now confront “economic terrorism” from animal rights groups.
A graphic excerpt of the undercover video, which animal rights group Compassion Over Killing says was taken by an undercover investigator in June and July, shows cows before slaughter covered in dirt and feces, some writhing on the ground and bleeding on themselves after being bolted, but not rendered senseless, several times. Several cows are shown projectile vomiting, presumably from stress, while being hit repeatedly with the bolt gun.
Renowned animal welfare expert Temple Grandin issued a statement condemning certain practices featured in the video, but also questioned why some of the sick cows were not euthanized instead of being shipped to a slaughter facility.
“Some of the major issues in the video originate due to the poor condition of the animals arriving at the plant, many of which should have been euthanized on the farm,” said Grandin. “I urge the dairy industry to market their cows before they become weak and extremely debilitated.”
In a cattle industry newsletter this week, animal care expert, Dr. Dave Daley, an associate dean for the College of Agriculture at California State University, argued that any and all mistreatment of animals “cannot be tolerated.”
“We do not condone any mishandling of livestock on the farm or ranch or in the packing facility,” said Daley. “In fact, we firmly believe that those knowingly and willfully committing any abuse to animals should not be in the business – period. The actions depicted in these videos are disgraceful and not representative of the cattle community.”
Slaughterhouse under investigation a major school lunch supplier
As recently as 2009, Central Valley Meat was one of the top three suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, but USDA has so far not responded to questions about current contracts with the company.
Records posted on USDA’s website show that between October 2010 and September 2011, the USDA purchased 21.2 million pounds of various beef products, including ground beef and boneless beef, from Central Valley Meat. Five separate purchases, ranging from 40,000 pounds to 6.9 million pounds, were made for a total of $49.7 million.
According to the overview of purchases, the USDA purchased around 135 million pounds of beef products during the fiscal year. Purchases from Central Valley Meat accounted for roughly 16 percent of beef purchases by volume during that time.
Shortly after learning about the video, popular fast food chain In-N-out Burger announced they had severed ties with the company, which had previously been supplying between 20 and 30 percent of the chain’s beef.
USDA, Costco, McDonalds, and Jack in the Box have also dropped Central Valley Meat as a supplier.
Central Valley Meat said it was cooperating fully with the USDA investigation.
“At Central Valley Meat Co., ensuring that the livestock we process are treated humanely is critically important,” said Brian Coelho, president of the company, in a statement. “Our company seeks not just to meet federal humane handling regulations, but to exceed them.”
Coelho said he was “extremely disturbed” to be told by USDA of the allegations, but the company has not yet commented on the contents of the video.© Food Safety News