Central Valley Meat reopens

A worker enters Central Valley Meat Co. wearing his hard hat and hairnets Monday afternoon. The meat-processing plant reopened after a week-long closure due to violations of humane animal-handling regulations. (Apolinar Fonseca/The Sentinel)

HANFORD — Hanford slaughterhouse Central Valley Meat Co. is once again supplying beef to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, a public relations firm representing the company confirmed Monday.

The move comes after the USDA shut down the plant Aug. 20-28 for animal cruelty violations. The allegations stemmed from videotape shot by an animal rights group that shows cows unable to stand being repeatedly shocked and stunned.

The plant was allowed to reopen after submitting a corrective plan, including additional humane handling training for employees and safeguards to ensure that non-ambulatory cattle don’t go to slaughter.

USDA rules require that “downer” cows be kept from going into the food stream.

“USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s investigation has concluded that there is no evidence that a downer cow was slaughtered and entered the food supply,” the public relations agency, Edelman Worldwide, said in a statement. “The company will resume packing and shipping existing meat orders purchased by USDA for the National School Lunch Program.”

Company officials declined to comment on the latest development, and neither it nor its public relations firm will say whether any of the workers involved in the alleged animal abuse were disciplined or fired.

“CVM isn’t discussing the USDA’s decision right now,” the agency said in an email response regarding the USDA contract.

After the plant shut down, a number of clients, including In-N-Out Burger, Costco and McDonald’s canceled or suspended contracts with Central Valley Meat, but by far the biggest loss was the contract with the National School Lunch Program. It is not known if these contracts have been resumed.

Between October 2010 and September 2011, USDA purchased 21.2 million pounds of beef products from Central Valley Meat Co., according to www.foodsafetynews.com. Five separate purchases were made for a total of $49.7 million.

Most of that went into the National School Lunch Program.

Meanwhile, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office has dropped an inquiry into Central Valley Meat Co.

Deputy DA James Jahn said the USDA “has basically handled the situation.”

“[Central Valley] has taken steps to remedy the problem they had,” Jahn said. “It appears to be a lack of training. I don’t think there was any real criminal intent.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.

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