WASHINGTON – Three US Congressmen have asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reopen Central Valley Meat Company in Hanford, Calif. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) suspended operations at the facility on allegations of animal abuse.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Representatives Devin Nunes and Jeff Denham, all members of the California delegation, wrote a letter to Vilsack "urging the immediate reopening of this facility in order to relieve the plight of its hardworking employees who need to provide for their families."

"If the plant remains closed, the local economy will be devastated," the legislators wrote. "This will serve no legitimate public interest and will do nothing to further the goal of appropriately responding to the alleged abuse."

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service suspended operations at Central Valley Meat Company for animal handling violations after receiving an undercover video from Compassion Over Killing, an animal-welfare organization. The group argues that the video depicts dairy cows suffering inhumane treatment before slaughter. But animal handling expert Dr. Temple Grandin raised questions about the video, saying that although there were some problems, the accompanying narration could mislead viewers into thinking some things were happening that were not.

Also, USDA found no evidence that downer cattle entered the food supply or that any food safety violations occurred.

In a letter to Vilsack, the congressmen requested that USDA deploy personnel to the plant to supervise resumption of plant operations while the agency's investigation continues.

"The investigation can and should continue, but does not necessitate a prolonged and economically disastrous full stoppage of operations," the letter stated. "Furthermore, your agency should more aggressively clarify the fact that our food supply is not — and never was — in jeopardy as a result of this alleged violation."

Central Valley Meat has lost several customers since the investigation began, including USDA, which purchased meat from the company for the agency's federal nutrition programs. McDonald's Corp. and Irvine, Calif.-based In-N-Out fast food chain suspended supplier agreements with Central Valley Meat. The New York Times reported that Costco Wholesale Corp. also suspended its partnership with company in light of the investigation.

The congressmen pointed out full-time USDA inspectors were on duty during the period the alleged violations occurred, yet the company had no record of non-compliance.

"In the strongest possible terms we urge you, as head of the agency charged with a science-based approach to securing the United States food supply, to intervene against the onslaught of attacks that are occurring at the behest of radical groups," the letter stated.