WASHINGTON – An undercover video depicting animal abuses at a California meat processor may not be what it seems, according to animal handling expert Dr. Temple Grandin.
Officials with the US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) suspended operations at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford, Calif., after receiving an undercover video that appears to depict dairy cows being abused before slaughter.
“I have reviewed the video posted today by Compassion Over Killing several times,” Grandin said in a statement. “In general, the narration of the video misleads the viewer into thinking some things are happening that are not.”
She said cattle in the video were properly stunned with one exception. Also, livestock that is properly stunned, unconscious and insensible will exhibit some reflexive kicking, especially the unrestrained rear leg.
“This is normal and occurs because the brain is no longer in control,” Grandin said. “In fact you can remove the head and the legs will still kick violently. In addition, one animal that showed a trembling head while coming off a conveyor was actually having what is called a “tonic spasm” and was clearly insensible as evidenced by its floppy tongue hanging out.”
Statements made in the video that captive bolt guns do not render animals insensible to pain were not true, she added. One gun appeared to be new and state of the art, but all such guns must be maintained properly in order to be effective, Grandin said.
“I did observe some overly aggressive and unacceptable use of electric prods with non-ambulatory cattle and in sensitive areas like the face,” Grandin said of the video. “While there are times when prods are absolutely necessary, they must be used sparingly and never in the face or other sensitive areas. I would classify this as egregious animal abuse.
“This plant needs to rely less on prods and move to lower stress driving tools,” she added. “Devices as simple as a stick with an inflated plastic bag on the end can be extremely effective in moving livestock.”
FSIS has yet to find any food safety violations, however one Central Valley Meat customer already has distanced itself from the company. Irvine, Calif.-based In-N-Out ended its supplier agreement with Central Valley Meat after learning about the federal investigation into the facility. Central Valley meat was one of five beef suppliers for the popular West Coast fast-food chain.
“As soon as we became aware of the allegations regarding Central Valley Meat Company and their handling of cattle, we immediately severed our supplier relationship with them,” said Mark Taylor, chief operating officer in statement. “In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals and all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for the humane treatment of cattle.”
“Every one of our suppliers must meet all USDA requirements including those dealing with animal welfare,” Taylor said. “Furthermore, we conduct periodic, unannounced inspections of our suppliers to make sure they continuously adhere to all our requirements.”
In a statement from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), animal care expert, Dr. Dave Daley, associate dean for the College of Agriculture at California State Univ. emphasized the need for cooperation toward ending animal abuse. He said anyone who witnesses inappropriate animal treatment has an obligation to stop the mistreatment immediately, and anyone who mistreats animals must be reported and should be punished in accordance with the law.
“The vast majority of cattlemen stand firm in adhering to the absolute best animal care and handling guidelines established by veterinarians and other experts," Daley said. "We do not condone any mishandling of livestock on the farm or ranch or in the packing facility. In fact, we firmly believe that those knowingly and willfully committing any abuse to animals should not be in the business — period. The actions depicted in these videos are disgraceful and not representative of the cattle community."
Grandin said some of the major issues in the video can be attributed to the poor condition of the animals arriving at the plant. She said many of those animals should have been euthanized on the farm.
“I urge the dairy industry to market their cows before they become weak and extremely debilitated,” Grandin said.