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USDA re-opens slaughterhouse after ‘downer’ assurances

By Mark Astley , 28-Aug-2012
Last updated on 28-Aug-2012 at 13:11 GMT

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has allowed California-based slaughterhouse Central Valley Meat Co. to reopen after the firm agreed to take action to ensure ‘downer’ animals are not processed.

Earlier this month, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) brought a halt to slaughtering operations at the establishment after an undercover operation exposed the inhumane treatment of cows.

An investigation was also initiated by the FSIS, dispatching a team of investigators to the California slaughterhouse. The USDA took action within hours of receiving a video from animal welfare campaigners, Compassion Over Killing (COK).

According to reports from the US, Central Valley Meat Co. has committed to implementing a number of corrective actions to ensure that only ambulatory animals are processed.

USDA food safety regulations state that non-ambulatory disabled animals – also referred to as ‘downers’ - must be euthanized and discarded of prior to the slaughter process to ensure they do not enter the food supply.

According to the USDA, a cow's inability to walk or stand can be a clinical sign of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).

Meat supply suspension

The plant has since resumed operations, although the FSIS investigation into possible food safety violations is still on-going.

Central Valley Meat Co is, however, still suspended from supplying meat to US federal food programs including the National School Lunch Program.

Fast food giant McDonald’s and retailer CostCo have also cut ties with the firm since the release of the undercover footage, which was filmed by a investigator who worked at the facility in June and July 2012.

According to COK, the footage showed “acts of cruelty that appear to violate both state and federal laws.”

The video showed, among other incidents, sick or injured cows repeatedly being shocked and workers pulling them in an effort to force them to stand and walk.

The FSIS has, however, confirmed that the video footage does not show a ‘downer’ animal entering the food supply.

Investigate allegations

“Our top priority is to ensure the safety of the food Americans feed their families,” said FSIS administrator Al Almanza following the closure.

“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,” he added.

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