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Congressmen call on USDA to reopen slaughterhouse

By Aaron Cooper, CNN
updated 10:35 PM EDT, Fri August 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The slaughterhouse was closed after videos surfaced showing inhumane treatment of cattle
  • The closure is causing "enormous economic stress" to the community, congressmen say
  • The USDA is reviewing a corrective plan submitted by the company

Washington (CNN) -- Three U.S. congressmen from California are calling for the Department of Agriculture to immediately reopen a slaughterhouse closed this week after videos showed what the agency called "disturbing evidence of inhumane treatment of cattle."

The videos, shot by an undercover activist and posted online Tuesday by the organization Compassion Over Killing, show animals at the Hanford, California-based Central Valley Meat Co. being repeatedly shot with a bolt gun. Another is shown suffocated and others are seen hanging from a single hind leg while apparently still alive.

"While some of the footage provided from this facility shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety," a USDA statement sent to CNN by spokeswoman Alyn Kiel said. "We are aggressively continuing our investigation."

Republican Reps. Devin Nunes, Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Thursday to urge the reopening of the plant because its closure caused "enormous economic stress in a community with double digit unemployment."

They called on the USDA to reopen the plant immediately and quickly deploy additional agency staff to make sure the slaughterhouse meets appropriate regulations.

"This area and these families cannot take this plant being closed," Nunes, who represents the district where many of the 500 slaughterhouse employees live, told CNN in an interview. "This is going to devastate many families who are already on the brink."

In recent years, the area around Hanford, about 30 miles south of Fresno, has seen home values plummet and unemployment rates reach as high as 20%, according to Nunes.

Brian Coelho, president of the Central Valley Meat Co., on Tuesday called the reports of inhumane treatment "disturbing and surprising."

"Our company seeks to not just meet federal humane handling regulations, but to exceed them," Coelho said in a statement. He said federal inspectors continuously inspect the plant and are able to take action if they see a problem. "That is why these allegations are both disturbing and surprising," he said.

The company has submitted a plan required for reopening the plant to the USDA, Nunes said, and he hopes the agency will approve it soon.

"USDA is reviewing the corrective action plan to ensure that it would comply with humane handling regulations before the facility is allowed to resume operations," agency spokesman Dirk Fillpot told CNN in a statement.

When asked for his reaction to the images in the videos, Nunes replied: "It's a tough business. Killing animals is not an easy business. The key point here is to make sure that everything is investigated and if any laws were broken."

In the letter, the congressmen also note the USDA had inspectors at the plant during the time the video was shot, yet "despite their active presence through out the facility at the time there is no record of non-compliance."

Central Valley Meat, a 50-year-old company, was one of the beef suppliers for In-N-Out Burger, a well-known fast food chain predominantly in California and the Southwest. Mark Taylor, chief operating officer for In-N-Out, said Wednesday that the chain has stopped doing business with Central Valley Meat.

"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," he said in a statement.

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