A security guard opens the gate at the Central Valley Meat Co., the slaughterhouse… (Gosia Wozniacka / AP Photo )
A Central Valley slaughterhouse that was shut down last week amid wide-ranging allegations of animal abuse reopened for business Monday, with federal officials saying that employees will receive new training on the handling of electric cattle prods, stun guns and other devices.
Officials in the U.S. Department of Agriculture had suspended the operations of Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford after reviewing videos shot by the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing and concluding that cows had been subjected to inhumane and "unacceptable" treatment.
Aaron Lavallee, deputy assistant administrator for the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the agency had allowed the meat-processing company to resume operations after receiving an "extensive corrective action plan" that includes:
• Allowing only properly trained employees to use electric or vibrating prods on its cattle.
•Ensuring that electric prods are used sparingly and not on a cow's face or sensitive parts.
•Barring the company from receiving "non-ambulatory" cows, or those that cannot stand or walk. If they become non-ambulatory on the way to the plant they must be humanely stunned or euthanized.
•Requiring that employees on a quarterly basis be retrained on the humane treatment of animals.
Central Valley Meat Co. said in a statement that the one-week closure had put a strain on a section of California suffering from double-digit unemployment. But it promised that the changes, including more frequent third-party audits of its operations, would "establish a new industry standard for the handling of animals."
"We look forward to getting back to work and continuing to help feed America," said the statement sent by the Edelman public relations firm in Washington, D.C.
A representative of Compassion Over Killing worked undercover at the Central Valley facility in June and July, compiling footage of cows being shot, jabbed and electronically shocked. The group said cows were led to slaughter even when they were unable to walk, violating federal food safety regulations.
"We shouldn't forget that many of the so-called corrective measures are steps that slaughter plants should already be taking in order to ensure compliance with federal law," said Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing.
Meier said the weeklong closure sent a message to the meat industry about "taking animal cruelty seriously." In-N-Out Burger cut its ties with Central Valley Meat and McDonald's and the USDA suspended purchases from the company.
Central Valley Meat had been a supplier for the National School Lunch Program until last week. Federal officials said the company will be ineligible to bid on contracts until inspectors are confident that the changes in the corrective action plan have been completed.
In-N-Out has not yet decided whether to renew its ties to Central Valley Meat, company spokesman Robert Emmers said. The burger chain wants the company to install additional safeguards, including outside expert surveillance that is conducted 24 hours a day, he said.