FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Federal investigators probing a slaughterhouse after an undercover video showed inhumane treatment of cows said Friday that there is no evidence that sick animals entered the food supply.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a team of investigators at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford found that no food safety violations occurred, though an investigation into inhumane handling of animals continues.
"The USDA team conducting the Central Valley Meat investigation has concluded there is no evidence to support the allegation that a downer cow was slaughtered and entered the food supply, and that no food safety violation occurred as a result," said Al Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The USDA closed the plant for a week this month after an undercover video shot by Compassion Over Killing showed downed animals being repeatedly kicked, shocked, shot and pulled by the tails by workers trying to get them to stand. Executive Director Erica Meier said she is unsure what to make of the USDA's decision.
"The video is clear and experts agree: Cows who were too sick or weak to stand up were egregiously abused," said Meier. "These animals were excessively shocked and grabbed by their tails in a desperate attempt to get them to walk to the slaughter line. Such treatment is not only cruel but a violation of federal animal handling regulations put in place for welfare concerns as well as food safety concerns."
Outrage over cruelty shown in the video was swift as McDonalds Corp. and In-N-Out Burger cancelled purchasing agreements along with the federal government, which bought 21 million pounds of meat from the company last year for the national school lunch program and other nutrition programs.
The USDA's findings mean the potential for a nationwide recall no longer is a factor. Company officials have been working to implement corrective actions, including quarterly training for workers and more frequent audits. Video surveillance cameras were installed in the plant this week.
"We have been informed that the USDA food safety investigation is now over and there are no food safety issues whatsoever with our product or operations. As a result, we are resuming full operations and production immediately," said the company in a statement.
The investigation continues into allegations of inhumane treatment of animals and how it was allowed to exist. USDA inspectors on site at slaughterhouses are trained in humane handling and "are expected to take immediate enforcement action" if they observe violations, according to the USDA.
The video showed workers shocking cows on the face. One worker apparently attempted to suffocate a cow by standing on its muzzle.
Some dairy cows were unable to walk or stand, and some had udders so swollen they were unable to keep their legs under them.