Purchases from Central Valley Meat Co. were worth nearly $50 million in 2011
The U.S. Department of Agriculture purchased 21.2 million pounds of beef last year from Central Valley Meat, the plant shut down this week for inhumane treatment of cows. The beef went to federal nutrition programs like the National School Lunch Program, according to department records.
Though undercover video shows egregious mistreatment of spent dairy cows at the company’s slaughterhouse, some of which appear lame or injured, USDA said Wednesday there is so far no evidence that so-called “downer” animals — those who can no longer walk — were slaughtered for human consumption. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s investigation is ongoing.
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 Agricultural Marketing Service 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.
A graphic excerpt of the video, which animal rights group Compassion Over Killing says was shot by an undercover worker at Central Valley Meat, shows cows before slaughter covered in dirt and feces, some writhing on the ground and bleeding on themselves after being bolted several times but not rendered senseless. Several cows are shown projectile vomiting, presumably from stress, while being hit repeatedly with the bolt gun.
One cow is shown being suffocated by a worker who stands on the animal’s snout. Some cows seem to survive the bolt gun and get sent down the assembly line still thrashing as they are strung upside down before being bled out. Another clip shows cows being sprayed with hot water and electrically prodded to move them.
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.
Renowned animal welfare expert Temple Grandin issued a statement Wednesday 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.”
Central Valley Meat Co responded Monday by saying that 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.
“Beef purchases from this company have been suspended during the investigation,” said a USDA spokesman in a statement late Wednesday. “The Department works to ensure that product purchased for the Federal feeding programs meets stringent food safety standards and that processors comply with humane handling regulations. While some of the footage provided from this facility shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety. However, we are aggressively continuing our investigation.”
Suppliers to federal nutrition programs are required to have animal welfare plans in place and they are subject to on-site audits. According to USDA policy, audit scheduling is performance-based with a minimum of two audits a year.
According to Compassion Over Killing, their investigator who shot the undercover video worked at the plant in June and July 2012. The last audit of Central Valley Meats was completed on July 24, 2012.