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USDA shuts slaughterhouse after group records cow 'torture' video

August 21, 2012 | 11:28 am

Federal food safety officials have temporarily closed a Central California meat processing plant after finding evidence of “egregious" and inhumane handling of livestock, officials said Tuesday.

The United States Department of Agriculture shuttered Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford on Monday after determining there were improper controls in place to ensure cows were treated humanely during slaughter, officials with the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said.

The agency sent a team of investigators, including public health veterinarians, to California on Friday to review two videos of the plant -- one running three hours and the other just three minutes. The animal rights group Compassion Over Killing took credit for the video, saying one of its investigators went undercover at the plant in June and July and captured images of cows being subjected to "torture" and "intentional cruelty" -- being jabbed, hit, electrically shocked, and sprayed with hot water.

The group said one segment shows cows who were still alive after being shot in the head and then suffocated by workers who stood on their mouths and nostrils. Another featured downed cows, unable to walk, who were shot in the head as many as four times, with workers often walking away while the animal continued to struggle and kick, according to the organization.

A spokeswoman said the group would make its footage public Tuesday afternoon.

Central Valley Meat Co. President Brian Coelho said his company was cooperating fully with federal investigators. In a statement, he said his company had retained an outside animal welfare expert to conduct a separate internal investigation.

“We are extremely disturbed to be informed by the United States Department of Agriculture that inspection was suspended and our plant could not operate based on a videotape that was provided to the department by a third party group that alleged inhumane treatment of animals on our property,” Coelho said.

The Hanford investigation comes four years after activists with the Humane Society captured hidden-camera video of cows at a slaughterhouse in Chino being dragged, pushed and hosed. That footage resulted in the plant’s closure and sparked the largest meat recall in U.S. history at the time.

Federal officials notified Central Valley Meat on Monday that they were withholding the agency's "mark of inspection," a move that keeps the plant from producing or shipping its products. Meat-packing companies must have federal inspectors inside their plants who can issue the mark of inspection to its products, officials said.

“USDA considers inhumane treatment of animals at slaughter facilities to be unacceptable and is conducting a thorough investigation into these allegations," said Neil Gaffney, spokesman for the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Gaffney said his agency is "prepared to take further action as warranted by the investigation."


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