One week after the U.S. Department of Agriculture withdrew inspectors from a California slaughterhouse over alleged animal abuse and inhumane slaughter, the agency gave the plant the green light to resume operations on Monday after reviewing the company’s corrective plan.
The Food Safety and Inspection service said Central Valley Meat Co. submitted an “extensive corrective action plan,” including increased humane handling training, to ensure that only animals that can stand and walk are processed.
Undercover video released last week by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing showed employees mistreating cows, including some “downers,” which are not legally allowed into the food supply because they are at higher risk for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
The agency said it is continuing to investigate whether the slaughterhouse violated food safety law, but there is so far no evidence that Central Valley Meat slaughtered any non-ambulatory animals for human consumption.
Company remains suspended from supplying federal nutrition programs
Central Valley Meat has come under intense scrutiny, especially after it was revealed that the company is a major supplier to the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs. While FSIS has not cited the company for food safety-related violations, the company violated its contractual obligation to meet the government’s humane handling standards and remains barred from supplying meat to federal nutrition programs.
The company is also ineligible to bid on future contracts until the Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees federal nutrition purchases, reviews and approves corrective and preventative measures that give USDA some level of assurance that the violations will not happen again.
As recently as 2009, Central Valley Meat was one of the top three suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program. Fiscal year 2011 records posted on USDA’s website show that, during that time, 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 an overview of purchases, USDA bought 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.
In-N-Out, which reportedly used Central Valley Meat to supply 20 to 30 percent of the chain’s beef, immediately severed ties with the company after news of the undercover video surfaced. Costco, McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, and Burger King also dropped the firm as a supplier.
According to FSIS, Central Valley Meat Co committed to the following:
– Allow only properly trained employees to help an animal that is capable of rising by providing the animal a steady hand support. Under no circumstances such support will be through attempting to pull, drag, or lift an animal.
– Allow only properly trained employees to use electric or vibrating prods sparingly and only on muscled and well fleshed areas and never on the face or sensitive parts.
– Ensure prompt and effective stunning of an animal showing signs of regaining consciousness; alternate loaded stunners ready for immediate use will be made available in holders that allow the operator to quickly restun the animal.
– Retrain employees on humane handling of animals on a quarterly basis, increase frequency of established monitoring of company [humane handling] related practices including camera monitoring, and establish an additional oversight through a Company Animal Welfare Committee.
– Non-ambulatory cattle may not be received at the establishment. If cattle become non-ambulatory during transportation, they will be humanely stunned on the trailer.© Food Safety News