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CA Lawmakers Ask USDA to Reopen Slaughterhouse Shut Down for Inhumane Treatment

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
  • Marshall

    Rep. Nunes makes several good points in his blog. He points out USDA has overreacted here and I tend to agree.
    There was no safety risk to our food supply. Some 3 minutes of disturbing video was spliced together out of snippets excised from “hours” of biased film footage. We have no context for the disgusting video clip, we do not know how it was produced nor do we know the precise circumstances under which it was filmed. It could easily have been staged. USDA should reopen that plant, fine the operators and fire it’s own inspectors if there really were “egregious” violations routinely occurring under their noses. If there are no firings, there were no violations and USDA must explain itself. Animal cruelty is unacceptable. So is animal rights terrorism. Let’s get this nonsense sorted once and for all.
    Somebody needs to be flogged for this. Maybe everybody including the extremists/terrorists. Enough is enough, dammit.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Considering this plant probably doesn’t employ that many people (they rarely do), and considering that the people caught on film are plant employees who obviously don’t know what they’re doing–and are inhumanly cruel, I think the state Republicans should just mind their own business.
    And what do the Republicans have to say about the undercover investigations? Why, the investigators are wrong; they’re out to undermine agriculture.
    Not that they caught employees engaged in overwhelming barbarity. Not that they caught instances where, yes, we do have to wonder about the safety of the meat coming out of this plant, if such careless practices are the norm.
    Our Republicans: sticking with the corporations even in the face of overwhelming video evidence. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    The owners have responded…by hiring a public relations firm.
    http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=8783208

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Marshall, the USDA was given all of the video evidence, which is why it moved so swiftly to shut the plant down.
    I realize the owners have hired a PR firm to downplay the seriousness of the video, but even the most insensitive person must be appalled at the cruel and inhumane handling of these cows.
    We also must be concerned at what are obviously sick cows being led to slaughter for meat for human consumption. Yes, the cows aren’t so sick they can’t walk (making them a “downer” cow)–but how healthy is it to have meat from obviously sick cows in our food system?
    The plant has problems–system wide problems. Until a plan of action is in place guaranteeing these problems have been solved, it should be allowed to continue.

  • Michael Bulger

    “…cows before slaughter covered in dirt and feces, some writhing on the ground and bleeding on themselves…”
    Despite Rep. Nunes’s opinion, it appears that the food supply was in fact in jeopardy. Fecal contamination is a major vector for foodborne pathogens. Contamination of hides has been correlated to the contamination of the carcasses post-processing. Simply put, cows rolling around in their own feces increases the likelihood that they will be unsafe when they leave the slaughterhouse.

  • Jen

    I don’t see how any of the inhumane handling can be considered “biased” even if it amounted to 5 minutes total of a 4 hour video. Inhumane is inhumane, and it should not happen.
    This is the same plant that had some guy die last year because he fell INTO a meat grinder.

  • Cindy Larson

    Marshall, how exactly would you put the egregious inhumane violence in that video “into context” to make it more palatable? And yeah, right, I’ll believe it was “staged”. When pigs fly.

  • http://downercattle.blogspot.com/2012/08/usda-mcdonalds-suspend-slaughterhouse.html Terry S. Singeltary Sr.

    does this really surpise anyone. the republicans have been willing to feed BSE to the consumers in the USA for years and years, just ask GW and slick rick perry, and then look at the QFC mad cow debackle in California. they both managed to cover up mad cows in Texas, then GW went on to do it as President.
    look at what the republicans are now willing to do to the gulf of Mexico by the romney-ryan energy plan put forth, stripping energy regulations, thus, finishing off what BP failed to do, by killing off the gulf of Mexico completely. republicans simply echo that of ann coulter i.e.
    “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’”
    and really, they mean just that, in my opinion. …
    Wednesday, August 22, 2012
    USDA, McDonald’s suspend slaughterhouse buys from Central Valley Meat Co. over deadstock downer cows
    http://downercattle.blogspot.com/2012/08/usda-mcdonalds-suspend-slaughterhouse.html

  • http://facebook.com/veganforlife Janet Weeks V

    Those three Central California Congressmen are wrong!
    “The videotape contains images so vile that many news organizations feel they can only show brief snippets. After all, who wants to witness a dairy cow enduring a slow and agonizing death, thrashing about and bleeding after being shot over and over again with a pneumatic gun that can’t seem to render her unconscious? Who wants to see an apparently still conscious cow being lifted up by one leg via a conveyor as she writhes in agony?
    “But, WATCH WE MUST. It’s vital for all of us to bear witness to injustice. It’s also the responsibility of journalists to expose injustice wherever it appears, no matter how inconvenient or unappetizing, no matter how powerless the victims.

    “Now, the U.S. government needs to investigate itself. What were the USDA inspectors stationed at the site doing? Why didn’t they spot the problem? Why did an animal welfare group have to do the USDA’s job for them?
    “Until the U.S. government develops integrity in this arena, consumers can’t assume the products they buy are made with integrity. So Caveat Emptor – buyer beware! If you don’t want to be a part of this horror, DON’T BUY MEAT PRODUCTS. It just might have to take a national meat boycott to get the USDA to clean up its act.” — Jane Velez-Mitchell
    http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2012/08/23/opinion-jane-velez-mitchell-slaughterhouse-video-shows-usda-needs-to-clean-up-its-act/

  • Cam Aujuard, REHS

    …..And this is “only” the protection of the nations food supply written and executed by republicans. Perhaps THIS incident will make all the above individuals who wrote in, to us this same conscious or mind-set come this November 06. I personaly am for sure, because we as a nation can do with out “REALLY WE CAN” another run of the years 2001 -2009. Can you feel me ?

  • jmg

    When USDA shuttered this plant they took ownership of this issue.
    USDA inspectors failed to detect a problem before, during and, so far, after extremist spies sounded an alarm. Has USDA utterly failed in its mission? Should Vilsack step down?
    Are these charges trumped up by agenda-driven hatchet men? Have the extremists punked us with a carefully choreographed false alarm? If so, how should they be prosecuted? How do we prevent this activist tactic being replayed over and over?
    Heads need to roll so we need to get to the bottom of this media circus, learn just exactly who has been scamming who. Which “watchdog” is screwin’ the pooch here? The ones wearing the badges or the ones wearing the ski masks? Not much in the way of credibility to commend either suspect.

  • inspectorf

    I have worked as a Federal Inspector for the last 12 years and have spent a large amount of time during the course of my duties verifying humane handling requirements at the plant where I am stationed. It is nearly impossible to make the people who handle the animals understand they must follow the LAW in regards to Animal Welfare. The ONLY time they seem to get it is if you shut the plant down and someone’s rear-end gets handed to them on a platter. I have personally witnessed an employee abusing an animal and then tell a bold-face lie with me standing right in front of them. Maybe to these California congressmen it isn’t a big deal but these are the same idiots that pitched a hissy fit in the past about the Agency isn’t doing its job and letting animals be mistreated. Guess when your unemployment rates climb because a plant where they mistreat cattle is shut down–as per the law you demanded–it’s a different case. Tell me how you want me to do my job and I’ll do it that way. Just don’t come crying to me when the crap hits the fan.

  • husna aijaz

    Closing the plant is not the solution to the problem. One can learn from mistakes and proceed to implement measures to correct future deficiencies in the system. The incident at this facility is an eye-opener for one and all, reminding us about being vigilant in the way we produce our food from the farm to the fork.
    In future, companies needs to conduct FREQUENT, UNANNOUNCED third party audits on its suppliers before purchasing food for the vulnerable populations.

  • Marty J.

    Hell of a time to inform us you can’t do your job, “f”.
    When witnessing violative misbehavior why didn’t you stop the line on the spot? Why instead would you lecture and cross examine livestock handlers? Is it your job to train them or is it your job to enforce the rules?
    See, this is the sort of thing we’re talking about. Goddam bureaucrats coasting along on the statistical likelihood they won’t be found out. Go-along to get-along just encourages people to bend and break the rules. And makes a gift to anti-agriculture extremists ammunition to charge their hateful campaigns.
    I recall it also was reported on this blog somewhere how USDA employees are campaigning for meatless Monday. It isn’t much of a stretch to conclude USDA is infiltrated with skulking anti-agriculture agenda pushing scabs similar to the faux “employee” who arranged video opportunities at this meat plant. Everybody gotta clean up their act and watch their backs. Spies and saboteurs lurk everywhere among us masquerading as coworkers, cloaked safely in indiscriminate whistleblower statutes. Just sayin’

  • GWB

    Heckuva job, Brownie, you’re doin’ a heckuva job.
    FEMA, USDA — what’s the diff? It’s all good.

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Marty J, this isn’t the fault of the USDA. This is the fault of the owners of the Central Valley Meat. Whatever part the USDA inspectors played in the egregious inhumane violations is nothing compared to the part played by the owners.
    And now the owners are learning there are costs to their actions. Serious costs, for very serious actions.
    So no, the plant stays closed until, as the USDA states, it develops an effective plan to ensure this never happens again.

  • inspectorf

    I DID do my job. The plant was shut down for 3 hours while the plant management came up with preventive measures to prevent such an ocurrence from happening again. That was what I was supposed to do as per the Agency. It isn’t MY job to train company employees to handle the animals–that responsibility lies with the plant. It is my job to ensure they follow the regulations and I DID JUST THAT. It is the plant management that needs to take animal welfare more seriously and insist the people they hire to handle the animals follow all the rules. If they did, then it wouldn’t matter how many videos were made in secret. If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to hide.

  • Betsey

    Shelley are you paid by the post or by the word to flame this blog? You seem to be everywhere throwing rote HSUS talking points up into our faces. You stay so dutifully on message, never hampered by an original thought. That’s what makes a pro, no?

  • Carla

    I can’t even express how disgusted this makes me. Seems like the only thing these guys are worried about is the food safety issue, which don’t get me wrong, is important, but so is the deplorable abuse. Why are sick cows being sent to slaughter? Why were these workers allowed to abuse these animals and botch their deaths? Seems like they should have been trained better and if you can’t kill an animal the first time, you need to be fired. Where was the compassion? I can’t even think about buying meat from the store anymore or eating at a fast food place. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that I would be supporting these practices. The problem with todays society is they think their meat comes from the store. If they knew the truth about what happens to it before it gets to the store, they might think twice before buying it. We need to demand cruelty free products.

  • Carla

    It amazes me that we can send a man to the moon, but can’t figure out how to get our meat from farm to table without abuse.Putting video cameras in every plant would help. People need to be held accountable.

  • Joanie

    Seems to me Shelley sticks to the ISSUES — which is WAYYYY more than can be said for the trolls lurking on this site….

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Betsey/Ted et al:
    My only response to your comment is, “What?” Talk about coming from left field and having no relevance to this post, to the comments, or to this thread.
    I’m hoping the days of unauthenticated comments at FSN are coming to an end, soon. I know the site is in the middle of a re-design.
    In the meantime, Betsey/Ted/and whatever other alias you use: thank you for your attention.

  • Ruby

    When FSN switches over to the comment censoring system Shelley insists upon will you also rename your food safety blog to something appropriate like the “All-Shelley All-The-Time Echo Chamber Formerly Called FSN”?
    Better do as you’re told or activists will pitch a magnitude 10 hissy fit on your heads and you know you don’t want that. Anything but that. Just ask USDA. They don’t ask how high, they just jump when instructed to do so by foodie activists. All that screaming and smearing just ain’t worth the trouble, eh Vilsack?
    I’m sure Shelley and her employers would love to squelch discussion here. That’s another of their charming professional hate mongering tactics, no?

  • Cleanse USDA Today

    Kudos to McCarthy, Nunes and Denham for forcing the reopening of this plant just 2 business days after USDA capriciously shuttered it, as USDA cowered in the face of extremist activist manipulation. Well done, honorable gentlemen!!
    Now, let’s get to the bottom of this USDA capitulation to subversive antiagriculture activists. It is apparent, not just from this sad sick cop-out but also from the recent USDA endorsement of meatless Mondays the department is seething with planted antiagriculture operatives from Merrigan on down to among the lowliest field inspectors. Undoubtledly there are competent tried and true employees at USDA but they are no longer guiding coherent policy. We cannot tell them apart from the saboteurs so if they all must go to save agriculture, so be it.
    Purge USDA or eliminate it. It’s one thing to waste public money on useless sockpuppet bureaucrats. It’s quite another thing to have them actively sabotaging agriculture, undermining our national security by subterfuge at the direction of embedded antiagriculture activists.
    Call for a congressional hearing on USDA’s purpose and value in modern American agriculture.

  • linda carlson

    I really don’t give a damn about the condition of the meat what I do care about is the horrible abuse these poor helpless animals went through at this slaughter house!! This makes me so incredibly sick to my stomach. How can these idiot murderers get away with such abuse! These employees should be fired immediately and the world should know who they are and what they have done! They are obviously so stupid and brain dead that slamming them in the head with a hammer over and over again and beating them to death would be a blessing to this world!
    The employees involved should be treated exactly as they have treated these poor living innocent creatures and this slaughter house and any other slaughter house who abuses animals should be shut down forever!!!!