FRESNO, Calif. - Federal investigators probing a slaughterhouse after an undercover video showed inhumane treatment of cows said Friday that there is no evidence that sick animals entered the food supply.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that a team of investigators at Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford found that no food safety violations occurred, though an investigation into inhumane handling of animals continues.
"The USDA team conducting the Central Valley Meat investigation has concluded there is no evidence to support the allegation that a downer cow was slaughtered and entered the food supply, and that no food safety violation occurred as a result," said Al Almanza, administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The USDA closed the plant for a week this month after an undercover video shot by Compassion Over Killing showed downed animals being repeatedly kicked, shocked, shot and pulled by the tails by workers trying to get them to stand. Executive Director Erica Meier said she is unsure what to make of the USDA's decision.
"It's an arguable situation," said Meier. "The video shows workers excessively poking and prodding cows too sick to walk and that does raise food safety flags."
Outrage over the video was swift as McDonalds Corp. and In-N-Out Burger cancelled purchasing agreements along with the federal government, which bought 21 million pounds of meat from the company last year for the national school lunch program and other nutrition programs.
The USDA's findings mean the potential for a nationwide recall is no longer is a factor.
"I am pleased to hear that FSIS has completed their investigation, found no food safety violations, and gave Central Valley Meat Co. a clean bill of health," Congressman Jim Costa said. "Hopefully, this news will reassure all of Central Valley Meat's customers that their food is, and has always been, safe."
The investigation continues into allegations of inhumane treatment of animals. USDA inspectors on site at slaughterhouses are trained in humane handling and "are expected to take immediate enforcement action" if they observe violations, according to the USDA.
The video showed workers shocking cows on the face. One worker apparently attempted to suffocate a cow by standing on its muzzle.
Some dairy cows were unable to walk or stand, and some had udders so swollen they were unable to keep their legs under them.
After the USDA closed the plant for inhumane handling violations, the company reopened a week later after committing to a number of corrective actions, including quarterly training for workers, more frequent audits and increased video surveillance.