Friday, May 24, 2013
Tracie Cone / The Associated Press
FRESNO, Calif. — The federal government and McDonald's Corp. suspended purchases of meat Wednesday from a California slaughterhouse under investigation for animal cruelty and possible health issues.
A security guard opens the gate at the Central Valley Meat Co., the California slaughterhouse shut down by federal regulators after they received video showing cows being repeatedly shocked and shot before being slaughtered.
The fast-food chain joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture in severing ties with Central Valley Meat Co.
The suspensions occurred after an animal welfare group's covert video showed cows that appeared to be sick or lame being beaten, kicked, shot and shocked in an attempt to get them to walk to slaughter.
"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 said in release.
Federal officials say nothing they have seen so far in the video shows meat from cows that may have been sick made it into the food supply, but interviews with employees were ongoing.
Company officials said in a written statement that they understand why companies are severing ties: "While the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service says it has no indication that food safety has been compromised at our facility, we recognize that the decision by our customers is a standard business practice and understand their concerns."
The statement said the company is working with animal welfare experts to improve practices and increase monitoring, including the use of video.
The undercover video was shot in June and July by an undercover operative for the group Compassion Over Killing who worked at the plant and also gave a written statement to the USDA about events not on tape.
"We do know that workers were trying to make non-ambulatory cows not eligible for slaughter go to slaughter," said Erica Meier, executive director of the animal welfare organization. "We believe red flags are raised for sure with our video, but it's up to the USDA to decide."
It's against the law to slaughter a non-ambulatory animal for food out of concern that it could be infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease.
The Hanford slaughterhouse is in the same city where a dairy cow at a rendering plant was discovered in April to have mad cow disease. The USDA said earlier this month it was an isolated case and didn't pose a threat to the food supply.
Central Valley Meat Co. primarily slaughters dairy cows that have lost their value as milk producers.
The USDA bought 21 million pounds of beef from the company in 2011 for the national school lunch and other federal food programs.
Records show the government made five large-scale purchases of ground and chunk beef, spending more than $50 million of the total $135 allocated by the government for such acquisitions that year.
USDA spokesman Justin DeJong said he did not know to which government food programs the beef was allocated. The meat generally goes to the national school lunch program and food distribution on Indian reservations, and is available for discount purchases by community food banks.
"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," the USDA said in a statement.
McDonald's also said it had suspended purchases of meat from the slaughterhouse. The company did not immediately say how much meat it had been buying. But a spokesman for the chain said the percentage of meat purchased from the slaughterhouse was in the single digits.
Regional fast-food chain In-N-Out Burger previously suspended purchases after learning of the allegations of inhumane treatment.
The New York Times reported that Costco Wholesale Corp. also suspended purchases. That company did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.
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