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USDA Shuts Down CA Beef Plant After Video Shows Inhumane Treatment

The U.S. Department of Agriculture withdrew inspectors from Central Valley Meat in Hanford, California on Sunday after an undercover video alleged egregious violations of federal humane slaughter laws.

The USDA was given footage from Compassion Over Killing, an animal rights group, that showed dairy cows being “repeatedly shocked and shot before being slaughtered,” according to the Associated Press, which was given four minutes of the footage. The AP reported that some of the cows were unable to walk.

Jeremy Russell, director of communications and government relations for the North American Meat Association, told Food Safety News that Central Valley Meat did not slaughter  “downer” cows — cows unable to stand or walk — for human consumption.

“The plant is shut down for humane handling violations, not for food safety. To my knowledge there aren’t even allegations that it processed downed animals,” said Russell, in an email. “Had they been, USDA would have insisted on a recall and no recall has been initiated or requested. This is a humane handling issue, but does not affect food safety.”

Non-ambulatory cattle are not legally allowed to be slaughtered for human consumption, in part because not being able stand or walk can be a clinical sign of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease. In April, the USDA confirmed that a downer dairy cow sent to a rendering plant, not a slaughter facility, tested positive for BSE.

As recently as 2009, Central Valley Meat was one of the top three suppliers of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, but Food Safety News was not able to immediately confirm whether the company still supplies meat to the program.

“The USDA considers inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter facilities to be unacceptable and is conducting a thorough investigation into these allegations,” said a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service spokesman. “Upon confirming several humane handling violations, FSIS suspended operations at the facility and is prepared to take further action as warranted by the investigation.”

Within hours of receiving the footage on August 16, the USDA — which is charged with assuring the safety of meat, poultry, and processed egg products — requested that its Office of the Inspector General investigate the validity of the allegations.

A team of investigators, including public health veterinarians specializing in humane handling, were sent to California on August 17 and the team concluded there was “sufficient evidence of several incidents that were determined to be egregious inhumane handling and treatment of livestock,” according to an official familiar with the investigation.

On August 19, FSIS notified Central Valley Meats that the agency was withholding the marks of inspection and immediately suspending the assignment of inspectors at the establishment.

“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 Monday. “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 could not comment directly on what was in the video because it had not yet been shared with his company.

“We are cooperating fully with USDA on its investigation,” said Coelho, who added that family members and managers “who have a long tenure with the company” supervise humane handling.

FSIS inspectors also provide continuous inspection at the facility. “That is why these allegations are both disturbing and surprising,” he said.

According to AP, the undercover video, which was reportedly shot over a two-week period in June, shows cows “being prepared for slaughter.”

“One worker appears to be suffocating a cow by standing on its muzzle after a gun that injects a bolt into the animal’s head had failed to render it unconscious,” according to the report. “In another clip, a cow is still conscious and flailing as a conveyor lifts it by one leg for transport to an area where the animals’ throats are slit for blood draining.”

“The videos show workers pulling downed cows by their tails and kicking them in an apparent attempt to get them to stand and walk to slaughter,” the report continued. “Others shoot downed cows in the head over and over as the cows thrash on the ground. In one instance, the video shows workers trying to get cattle to back out of a chute while repeatedly spraying them with water and shocking them.”

Dragging cattle on the ground can also present a microbiological food safety risk by allowing E. coli and other dangerous pathogens to contaminate the hide before slaughter.

In 2008, an undercover video by the Humane Society of the United States showed downer cows being prodded and moved with forklifts at Hallmark and Westland in Chino, California. The video sparked outrage among consumers and prompted the largest beef recall in history as well as two criminal convictions.

This story has been updated to reflect that there is no evidence downer cows were slaughtered for human consumption and to include comments from the North American Meat Association.

© Food Safety News
  • John

    The ONLY way this will truly stop is if the owners AND managers at the plant are treated with the EXACT SAME disrespect.

  • Jen

    This is maddening. Absolutely maddening.

  • Minkpuppy

    Infuriating! I know there’s many inspectors like myself that bust their butts daily to prevent this kind of stuff and now none of that matters because someone didn’t take their job seriously enough to pick up a phone and call the whistleblower hotline. If the Agency retaliates, screw them and sue them. There’s protections in place to stop the retaliation against inspectors that speak out.
    There is absolutely no excuse after all this time for the USDA inspectors or District Offices to allow this to go on under their noses. They are getting humane handling training so what are they going to blame it on this time? Anything this bad going on had to catch someone’s attention somewhere.
    Did the inspectors get ignored AGAIN? Did they shut up out of fear of retaliation for whistleblowing? Or, did they just simply look the other way because they didn’t want to be bothered with it? Doesn’t matter which they did because they’re probably going to be unemployed and full of regrets very very soon.
    Complacency is to blame here. Employees with long tenure supervising humane handling is all fine and dandy as long as someone is checking up on them. Apparently, no one did. You can’t assume everything is OK just because Papa Joe has been working there 30 yrs. Papa Joe may not give a damn anymore. Sheesh!

  • J2

    Why did it take more than six weeks for COK to bring this information forward? Did they allow other animals to be tortured during this time? Did they put human health at risk if meat from diseaed animals made it into food suuply?

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    MinkPuppy, well said.
    J2: undercover agents have to get enough evidence to demonstrate that the problem is system wide and pervasive before agencies such as the USDA act.
    If they only recorded one instance, the owner would say it’s an isolated problem. If they only record one week, the owner would say the problem isn’t re-occurring.
    The undercover folks don’t like it, it breaks their heart. However, if they don’t get enough evidence, everything is for naught.
    What’s very said, and very frustrating is knowing that rather than actually deal with these problems, livestock producers are state reps to pass ag-gag laws that would shut down these types of investigations.
    Well, try to shut down. Won’t stop the undercover, and I’d love to see the ag-gag laws in front of the Supreme Court.

  • zalia

    you have to know that this is not the only beef (or pork, chicken etc) plant that is inhumanely treating animals. we only get to find out about it months/or years down the road. USDA is keeping it secret as much as possible from all of us.

  • federal microbiologist

    Well, I am shocked – just SHOCKED – to learn that Central Valley Meat Co. allows ‘downer’ dairy cows to enter the food chain.
    Carol Keiser-Long, a Board Member of the agrochemical industry front group ‘Truth About Trade and Technology’, as well as the owner of the C-Bar Cattle Co., Inc., which manages several beef cattle CAFOs located in the Midwest, said this in the aftermath of the California dairy cow diagnosed with BSE last April:
    “Consumers can enjoy U.S. beef without worry. It’s safe. It’s nutritious. It’s delicious.
    ….. our American regulatory system is working. I’m confident our food is safe. I think we will have beef for dinner.”
    Yeah, you go have that beef, Carol.
    I think I’ll pass………

  • http://gmail R L

    If most of us saw how food, especially meat of any kind and how it was processed from pasture or pen to table. We would all be Vegan’s

  • Helane Shields

    The brutality at Central Valley meat proves nothing has changed since the Humane Society of America exposed extreme slaughterhouse cruelty in 2008.
    The fact is that sick, diseased, disabled, downer animals are entering the food chain on a regular basis. The proof is the 6 million US Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) victims, with a new case every 68 seconds.
    It is time for the public to be told the truth:
    Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and sporadic Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (sCJD)
    are sister prion diseases (like mad cow and Chronic Wasting Disease), transmissible by aerosols, tainted meat and feed, infectious by medical (scopes, etc.) dental and eye equipment, blood, urine, feces, saliva, mucous.
    Recently, UCSF Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner (for his prion research) identified AD as being caused by misfolding infectious prions/proteins
    http://www.alzheimers-prions.com/pdf/JUNE2012PRUSINER-ETAL-
    ALZHEIMERSISAPRIONDISEASE.pdf
    “The prion-like behavior implicated in Alzheimer’s disease also suggests that it may be transmissible like mad cow disease.”
    “Our findings open the possibility that some of the sporadic Alzheimer’s cases may arise from an infectious process,” senior author Claudio Soto said in a statement in October. ”
    http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/336322/20120502/alzheimer-s-trigger-cause-mad-cow-prion.htm?utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Alzheimers+Twitter+News&utm_source=twitterfeed
    The pathway of risk for being infected with a prion disease is ingesting prion infected food/meat.
    In 1985, Dr. Richard Marsh proved that feeding downer cattle to farmed mink in Wisconsin caused TME = Transmissible Mink Encephalopathy. Mad cow disease has been circulating and amplifying in the US herd since then. After the third US mad cow was found in 2006, the USDA cut testing from 300,000 animals to only 40,000 a year. (out of 37 million slaughtered) And only 5000 downer cows are tested at the rendering plant out of the 2 million downer cows slaughtered and rendered into animal feed each year. Rendered animal feed is most likely to be the source of mad cow in the US herd – 1 million downer cows – the ones most likely to be infected with mad cow disease (from total of 2 million downers) are rendered into potentially prion infected feeds which are fed to chickens, sheep, pigs, fish, family pets, etc. Then the cows are fed chicken litter containing the feces and potentially prion infected chicken feed from the rendering plant.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-greger-md/mad-cow-disease-california_b_1450994.html
    The human pathway of risk is hamburger made from aging, asymptomatic dairy cows infected with Bovine Amyloidotic Spongiform Encephalopathy (BASE) mad cow [Three out of four US mad cows were infected with the "atypical" BASE strain of mad cow.] Old dairy cows are ending up UNTESTED in huge industrial mixing vats of hamburger, each containing meat from 50 to 100 animals from multiple states and two to four countries. http://www.organicconsumers.org/madcow/burger21904.cfm
    Two researchers were prescient in the mid 2000s, when they predicted the mad cow/Alzheimer’s epidemic:
    http://www.healthydepartment.com/alzheimers-disease/interview-mad-cow-and-misdiagnosed-alzheimers-disease-4541.html
    VIDEO Interview – Mad Cow and Misdiagnosed Alzheimer’s Disease
    Interview with Colm Kelleher author of “Brain Trust: “The Hidden Connection Between Mad Cow and Misdiagnosed Alzheimer’s Disease” recorded November 16, 2004.
    Dr. Murray Waldman, a coroner of the City of Toronto and co-author with Marjorie Lamb of the McClelland and Stewart book, “Dying for a Hamburger: modern meat processing and the epidemic of Alzheimer’s disease”, charges hamburger is the main source of prions, which infect and cause Alzheimer’s.
    Prion diseased cows = prion diseased humans.
    Helane Shields, Alton, NH hshields@tds.net (www.alzheimers-prions.com/)

  • Bob

    I is so disturbing that cattle are handled inapropriatly. That being said I hope all you bleeding hearts are ready to house and help all the people that are out of work. The support industry like gas and grocery stores. I hope that you all feel the impact on the goods and services you buy. I DON’T AGREE with improper handling of livestock, but ask yourself is it better to destroy a business and a company that provides countless jobs or maybe tighten the inspections and fine them..

  • husna aijaz

    Inspection does need to be tightened at every level of the food chain. Random inspections by Federal and State inspectors and a dedicated Quality Control Manager can make a whole lot of a difference to the way our food is produced!

  • Minkpuppy

    Husna:
    The inspectors are supposed to be doing random checks throughout the day in addition to the ante-mortem and suspect animal inspections which are mandatory. Nothing is obviously going to happen when the PHV is in the yards. These idjits probably went about business as usual when the investigators walked out there and got nailed in the act, confirming the video.
    Oh yeah, someone explain to me where it says downer cows got in the food supply when ther’s no evidence that they did? See article: “The plant is shut down for humane handling violations, not for food safety. To my knowledge there aren’t even allegations that it processed downed animals,” said Russell, in an email. “Had they been, USDA would have insisted on a recall and no recall has been initiated or requested. This is a humane handling issue, but does not affect food safety.”

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Can almost guarantee there were no downer cows slaughtered.
    Not sure how long the undercover agent was at the plant, but if there was even an instance of a downer cow being slaughtered, it would have been on video and that video would have immediately made its way to authorities.
    This is a case of egregious cruelty, along with extremely poor training and oversight on the part of management.

  • husna

    Minkpuppy:
    Thank you for sharing your analysis on this issue. When an organization keeps certain individuals with a particular background related to food/animal rights away from the related scenario, it is a red flag, indicating lack of Quality Control measures and non-complaince to FSMA and other Federal guidelines.
    Inspections are “supposedly” random, but in my observation, not always so. Some inspectors have misused their positional power and played along to protect the organization’s reputation forgetting what they are ultimately putting up to a risk!

  • husna

    My last statement is in relation to inspections done at local level only, specifically where the inspections are done for the vulnerable population.
    A point to ponder:
    Pre-slaughter stressors in animals (including inhumane treatment, heat, transportation issues, excessive fasting etc ) results in antemortom exhaustion of glycogen stores thereby resulting in meat that is very high in pH. This can result in two things: meat that is dark, firm and dry (detrimental to the sale of the product as consumers reject the product) and increased susceptibility to microorganisms. So the loss is equitably distributed among the producers and consumers. Would food producers/establishments want that??

  • Jon

    So the USA does have BSE in cattle then!
    Quote Para 5: “In April, the USDA confirmed that a downer dairy cow sent to a rendering plant, not a slaughter facility, tested positive for BSE”