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TMCNet:  Experts criticize Hanford meat plant practices [The Fresno Bee]

[August 23, 2012]

Experts criticize Hanford meat plant practices [The Fresno Bee]

(Fresno Bee, The (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 23--The Hanford meat-processing plant accused of mistreating cattle after an animal-rights group posted an undercover video took sharp criticism Wednesday from experts in veterinary care and animal slaughter.

Compassion Over Killing's video report on its undercover investigation at Central Valley Meat. (Warning: Contains graphic images.) ------ But the Central Valley Meat Co. took an even bigger hit Wednesday when both the federal government and McDonald's said they had suspended beef purchases. In-N-Out Burger made a similar announcement Tuesday.

The increasingly beleaguered Central Valley Meat hired a public relations company in Washington, D.C., and issued its first statement since the four-minute covert video was posted Tuesday on the homepage of Compassion Over Killing, an animal-rights group.

The 30-year-old Valley company said it is working with USDA regulators to solve any problems and asserted that beef from the plant is safe to eat.

The USDA, which bought 21 million pounds of beef from the company in 2011 for the national school lunch and other federal food programs, has said the video does not show sick cows being slaughtered for food. But federal investigators are continuing to probe allegations of animal cruelty by company workers and whether federal inspectors were aware of the mistreatment but failed to stop it.

It's unclear when the company will get permission to resume slaughtering cattle. The plant, which employs 360 people, stopped processing beef Monday when the USDA withdrew its meat inspectors.

Four years ago, a plant in Southern California that was the target of an undercover video showing mistreatment of sick, or "downer," cows went out of business after a massive recall of 143 million pounds of beef. No beef recall has been ordered in the Hanford case.

Meanwhile, the Kings County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday that an attorney for Compassion Over Killing delivered a copy of its video and a report this week. The district attorney has no immediate plans to investigate potential violations of state law and will wait for the USDA to complete its investigation, a spokesman said.

The video prompted the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to issue a statement Wednesday.

"We firmly believe that those knowingly and willfully committing any abuse to animals should not be in the business -- period," Dave Daley, a professor at California State University, Chico, said in the statement released by the marketing group. "The actions depicted in these videos are disgraceful and not representative of the cattle community." The American Veterinary Medical Association called the treatment of cows shown on the video "inhumane and deplorable," while Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University professor of animal science, said she bawled out the company's co-owner in a phone conversation.

Grandin, who famously overcame autism to become a designer of livestock-handling equipment, said she reviewed the video and spoke with company co-owner Brian Coelho about some of the abuses shown in the video. A statement by Grandin was distributed by the PR company hired by Central Valley Meat.

"I got all over him," Grandin later told The Bee. "I told him his employees should not be doing that. That's a management issue." The video shows cows in a chute on the way to slaughter being stung on the face by an electric prod to force them to back out.

"An electric prod to the face That's a violation of every international guideline on handling cattle," Grandin said. The proper procedure is to wait five or 10 minutes for the cows to calm down, then place a white coat in front of the animal like a curtain and it will back up on its own, she said.

The video also showed a worker stepping on a cow's nostrils and mouth, apparently after it had been shot with a bolt to the head for slaughter.

"It's stupid. That's ridiculous," Grandin said. "I've never seen that." The company has hired a consultant to improve its practices, she said: "They're going to put everyone through training." Central Valley Meat did not answer a request for a response to Grandin's remarks.

One scene of a cow being pulled up by a hoist after being shot in the head while its legs were still moving "looked really disgusting" but is standard procedure, Grandin and other experts said.

"It's normal to see them kick like that," Grandin said. After being shot in the head, the animal is dead but the spinal cord, which controls leg movements, stays active for five minutes, she said.

The most disturbing part of the video for Neal Spiro, an animal science professor at Fresno State who specializes in dairy, was the shocking with electric prods of cows that could not get up on their own.

"The handling of non- ambulatory animals with 'hot shots,' that's unacceptable," Spiro said.

The undercover investigator who used a hidden camera to document the alleged abuses at Hanford was a freelance contractor who had previously exposed one other facility for the animal-rights group, according to Erica Meier, Compassion Over Killing's executive director.

And the privately funded probe isn't over yet because the nonprofit filed a Freedom of Information Act request about two months ago seeking Agriculture Department documents on the Central Valley Meat Co.

"There are conditions inside these facilities where we don't know what's going on," Meier said.

Based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Tacoma Park, Md., Meier's organization has eight staffers in its East Coast and Los Angeles offices. It has previously undertaken "a couple of dozen" undercover investigations nationwide, including one that ultimately closed a Santa Cruz chicken hatchery, Meier said.

While keeping details about the investigator's identity confidential, Meier noted the operative kept a written log during a two-week stint and shot several hours' worth of video.

"There's no school for this," Meier said.

Formerly an animal control officer in Washington, D.C., Meier also worked after college for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Compassion Over Killing reported revenues of $640,703 in 2010 and expenses of $610,119, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. The expenses included $7,409 for "investigations" into alleged "severe animal cruelty." In 2009, the group reported spending $47,056 on investigations.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6104 or lgriswold@fresnobee.com.

___ (c)2012 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) Visit The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) at www.fresnobee.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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