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USDA could install cameras in slaughterhouses

  • Story Highlights
  • 3-year-old proposal to watch packing plants gains new attention
  • Recent video of inhumane treatment of cattle revives interest
  • As many as 800 plants could get cameras, official says
  • Agriculture secretary says he would support action
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From David Fitzpatrick
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Cameras could be placed in about 800 U.S. slaughterhouses to watch for improper procedures and inhumane handling of cattle, a federal official said Thursday.

A Senate committee recommended installing the cameras three years ago, but the proposal is getting new consideration in the wake of a massive recall of beef last month, Agriculture Undersecretary Richard Raymond told a House committee Thursday.

"It is really the inhumane handling issue," Raymond told CNN. "I can't see putting these in a plant that makes jerky, in a processing plant."

Raymond said that logistical issues still exist, including figuring out who would watch the cameras and how they would be controlled.

"Those are the considerations we would have to take under advisement before we make a decision up or down on the camera issue," he said.

The recall was initiated after the release of videotape taken by a Humane Society of the United States employee with a hidden camera over a six-week period while employed at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Packing Co. in Chino, California.

The video, which was released to the news media on January 30, showed "downer" cows being chained, dragged, rolled, kicked and jabbed in an effort to make them stand and be led into a chute for slaughter. Workers prodded the animals with forklifts and shot powerful streams of water into their nostrils to induce them to move.

The recall, ordered February 17, covered all the plant's output since February 1, 2006 -- most of which had already been consumed.

Last week, at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer was asked about putting cameras in slaughter plants. He said he would be open to the idea if rules allow for it.

"We need to find out why that happened and -- should a solution for 100 percent surveillance be appropriate and the rules in place to watch the cameras and to review them and all that kind of stuff -- then I'm fully on board with working with you to make sure that happens," he said.

But in a document written to preview the hearing, the committee noted that it had suggested that such cameras be installed as far back as 2005, and criticized the Agriculture Department for not taking that step.

"To date, USDA has not followed our recommendations," the statement said. "It is interesting that one of the first steps taken by the Westland/Hallmark company after they got caught was to install television monitors. That could be considered a positive step, but one that is too late." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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