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Central Valley slaughterhouse reopens after animal abuse claims

August 27, 2012 |  8:36 am

Central Valley Slaughterhouse
A slaughterhouse in Central California received the go-ahead from federal food inspectors to reopen Monday, a week after it was shut down in a swirl of allegations about abusive treatment of cows.

Officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture had suspended operations of Central Valley Meat Co., a meat-processing company in Hanford, after concluding its cattle had been subjected to inhumane treatment.

Aaron Lavallee, spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said Monday that Central Valley Meat Co. had agreed to make a number of "corrective actions," including additional training for its workers on the humane handling of cows.

The one-week closure had been triggered by the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing, which provided federal officials with four hours of video shot by a representative who had worked inside a Central Valley Meat Co. slaughterhouse in June and July.

The group said the footage showed cows being shot, electronically shocked and led to slaughter even when they were unable to walk.

Central Valley Meat Co. issued a statement saying it will have better training, better monitoring of its facilities and more frequent third-party audits of its operations.

"We believe these measures will establish a new industry standard for the handling of animals," a company official said in the statement.

Federal officials said the changes at the company will include:

* Allowing only properly trained employees to use electric or vibrating prods on its cattle

* Ensuring that electric prods are used sparingly, and only on muscled and well-fleshed areas and not on a cow's face or sensitive parts

* Ensuring cows that are not capable of walking while being transported are humanely stunned

* Requiring that employees are retrained on the humane treatment of animals on a quarterly basis.

The federal investigation had financial repercussions for the company, with In-N-Out Burger severing its supplier agreement and both McDonald’s and the USDA suspending purchases of its meat products. Central Valley Meat has been a supplier for the National School Lunch Program.

Federal officials said Central Valley Meat Co. will be ineligible to bid on future USDA contracts plans until inspectors are confident the company has made all the changes required in its corrective action plan.

The investigation into allegations of food safety violations is still ongoing. Last week, the agency said it had seen no evidence on the undercover video that the company had endangered the safety of the food supply.

Central Valley Meat said in its statement that it is "thankful" that its 450 employees can return to work, saying the one-week closure "put an even greater strain" on a community suffering from double-digit unemployment.

"We look forward to getting back to work and continuing to help feed America,” officials said in the statement said.


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Photo: Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford was closed for a week after the animal abuse allegations. Credit: Associated Press