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USDA Suspends Central Valley Meat for Humane Handling Violations

13:16PM Aug 23, 2012
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In-N-Out Burger and McDonald's also sever ties with the slaughterhouse after video shows dairy cow abuse.

Taking aggressive action to investigate and respond to disturbing evidence of inhumane treatment of cattle at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif., USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said Tuesday it had suspended assignment of its inspectors at the slaughterhouse, effectively halting the company’s slaughter operations.

Fast-food chains In-N-Out Burger and McDonald’s also stopped their purchases from Central Valley Meat after an animal rights group sent USDA a videotape last week depicting abuse of dairy cows at the slaughterhouse.

“As soon as we became aware of the allegations regarding Central Valley Meat Company and their handling of cattle, we immediately severed our supplier relationship with them,” In-N-Out Burger’s chief operating officer Mark Taylor said Tuesday. “In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals and all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for humane treatment of cattle.”

In an emailed statement to Dairy Today this morning, McDonald’s said: “Central Valley Meat (CVM) provided raw beef to several of our suppliers. However, upon learning about USDA’s decision to suspend CVM, we took immediate action and suspended supply from this facility, pending further investigation. There are behaviors in the video which appear to be unacceptable and would not adhere to the standards we demand of our suppliers. McDonald’s cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain. We take this responsibility – along with our customers’ trust – very seriously.”

FSIS said it had initiated an investigation of the meat plant within hours of receiving the video. USDA has dispatched several teams of investigators to California and continues to gather information on the ground.

In terms of humane handling, FSIS said it had found violations at Central Valley Meat Co. and suspended the agency’s mark of inspection. Its teams will continue to examine the violations documented in the video. Regarding food safety, the video footage provided to USDA does not show a “downer” animal entering the food supply, FSIS added. However, USDA is conducting a thorough investigation that encompasses food safety and will respond appropriately to its results.

“Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families,” said Al Almanza, FSIS administrator. “We have reviewed the video and determined that, while some of the footage provided shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety. Therefore, we have not substantiated a food safety violation at this time. We are aggressively continuing to investigate the allegations.”

USDA food safety regulations state that, if an animal is non-ambulatory disabled at any time prior to slaughter, it must be condemned promptly, humanely euthanized, and properly discarded so that it does not enter the food supply.

FSIS is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and accurately labeled, and also works to ensure industry's compliance with poultry good commercial practices and with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which requires that livestock be handled and slaughtered in a humane way.