A California meat plant that was temporarily shut down this week had some pretty big name clients, including In-N-Out (if you aren’t familiar, just ask any one who has ever been to California and will swear up and down that “oh, man, they have the best burgers in the whole entire universe”) and the U.S. school lunch program. From what an animal rights group is alleging, it sounds like cows were having an awful time at the plant.
The feds closed the plant this week, citing evidence of “egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock.” Animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing released an undercover video recently that showed workers using electric prods on cattle that can barely walk. The group also says the company may have used diseased “downer cows” and treated them inhumanely, reports ABC News.
It’s illegal under federal law to use “non-ambulatory disabled cattle” that aren’t eligible for slaughter for human consumption, because such downer cows could be carriers of unhealthy things like mad cow disease.
“The abuses that we uncovered should concern people for the way in which these animals were treated, but it also brings up food safety concerns and that is something that the American public wants to know about,” said Erica Meier, the executive director of Compassion Over Killing.
No need to spit out your burger just yet, as there’s no evidence that any of the cows slaughtered at the plant were diseased, and the government hasn’t recalled any beef from that location either.
The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says the closing of the plant is because the company didn’t prevent the inhumane handling of livestock that were destined to end up in food served to humans.
“Upon confirming several humane handling violations, FSIS suspended operations at the facility and is prepared to take further action as warranted by the investigation,” a spokesperson told ABC News.
In-N-Out says it got about 20-30% of its meat from the plant, and had immediately canceled its contract upon hearing about the allegations. A spokesman added that the chain had its own inspectors check out the plant, but hadn’t ever seen any inhumane treatment:
“In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals, and, in fact, all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for the humane treatment of cattle.”
Beyond the contract with In-N-Out, the plant has a $3.8 billion two-month contract with the U.S. government to supply beef to the USDA national school lunch program. No word yet on whether that will continue.
The plant’s president says the company is going to look into things right away, saying: ”We take these allegations seriously and we are committed to correcting any problems identified on the video as quickly as we possibly can.” But he added that the allegations are coming somewhat out of the blue, as the plant is ”under continuous inspection by USDA Food Safety and Inspection personnel who are empowered to take immediate action when they observe a problem.”