USDA clears California meat plant after cow handling reforms

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2012 - A week after pulling federal inspectors out of Central Valley Meat at Hanford, Calif., effectively shutting it down, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service allowed the plant to reopen Monday after its owners submitted a plan to prevent less-than-humane animal handling.

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FSIS ordered the plant closed Aug. 19 after it reviewed videotape recorded by an undercover worker for the animal rights activists Compassion over Killing, said to show inhumane treatment of dairy cows before slaughter. Although FSIS has no evidence that meat from downed or sick cows were slaughtered for food, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service continued to suspend purchases for school lunches because of “contractual humane handling violations.” Several private sector meat buyers also stopped buying from the plant.

There was some debate over whether the videotape showed abuse at the level that would violate the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978. Famed animal welfare expert Temple Grandin described the footage and the activist group's narration as misleading. “I did observe some overly aggressive and unacceptable use of electric prods with non-ambulatory cattle and in sensitive areas like the face,” she said in the statement, released by the company.

The video shows that a cow appears to be struggling after it was shot.

“The company has committed to a number of corrective actions including additional humane handling training for employees and safeguards to ensure that only ambulatory animals are processed,” USDA said in a statement to California news media Monday.

Central Valley Meats agreed to retrain employees in humane handling every three months, prohibit workers to drag a sick animal or force it to move by using electric prods in sensitive areas. It also agreed to install cameras to make sure the rules are being followed, USDA said.

In terms of food safety, FSIS said the videotape footage did not show a “downer” animal that was slaughtered for food. “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families,” said Administrator Al Almanza. “While some of the footage provided shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety.”

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