A California slaughterhouse whose "unacceptable" treatment of cattle has
prompted a federal investigation supplied millions of pounds of meat to
school-lunch and other food programs in recent years, federal records show.
It's not clear whether any of that meat ended up in Orange County school lunchrooms.
Federal regulators shut down the Central Valley Meat Co. in Hanford on Monday after receiving an undercover video that appeared to show workers tormenting cows and bungling their slaughter. The video showed cows thrashing and bleeding after being shot with a pneumatic stun gun, and workers using electric prods to hit cows that appeared unable to walk.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture halted operations at the plant and sent in a team of investigators, in part to ensure the safety of its meat. The agency said in a statement that the video captured inhumane practices but did not show any sick -- or "downer" -- cows entering the food supply.
"We have reviewed the video and determined that, while some of the footage provided shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety," Al Almanza, the administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, said in a statement. "Therefore, we have not substantiated a food safety violation at this time."
The plant has received more than $340 million in contracts from the federal Agricultural Marketing Service since 2000, federal procurement records show. The agency runs the national school-lunch program and other federal food-assistance programs.
Central Valley sold some 21 million pounds of beef to federal food programs in fiscal year 2011. As late as this month, the plant was selling its frozen ground beef to federal "child nutrition" and other food programs -- 1.2 million pounds, worth more than $2.5 million, purchase reports show.
In Orange County, a dozen school districts polled by the county Department of Education said they were not aware of any Central Valley meat in their kitchens. But districts rarely contract directly with a slaughterhouse such as Central Valley; much of their meat comes in bulk shipments from the school-lunch program, or from processors.
(The districts that responded to the Education Department's inquiry were: Laguna Beach, Ocean View, Irvine, Los Alamitos, Lowell Joint, OCDE schools, Fullerton Joint Union, Savanna, Capistrano Unified, Newport Mesa, Fountain Valley and Centralia.)
The USDA has not ordered a recall of Central Valley meat. Dr. Marc Lerner, the medical director of the Orange County Department of Education, called that an "important statement relative to what the implications might be for student safety."
Nonetheless, Irvine-based In-N-Out Burger said it "immediately severed" its relationship with Central Valley, which had supplied about 20 percent of its 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," it said in a statement.
Irvine-based Taco Bell also said in a statement that it finds "the inhumane treatment of animals completely unacceptable, and we won't do business with suppliers that don't meet our high standards." Spokesman Rob Poetsch did not respond when asked to clarify whether the chain had used Central Valley meat before.
A spokeswoman for Carl Karcher Enterprises, the former Anaheim company that includes Carl's Jr. and other chain restaurants, said she was not aware of "any product in the CKE system that came from that plant." A spokeswoman for Lake Forest-based Del Taco did not respond to a request for comment.
The USDA has also suspended its beef purchases from Central Valley Meat as it investigates the slaughterhouse practices shown in the video, shot by an undercover worker for the animal-welfare group Compassion Over Killing. The plant will have to submit an animal welfare plan and pass an onsite audit before it can be reinstated as a federal supplier, according to the USDA.
In a statement issued by its public-relations firm, Central Valley said that it took the agency's concerns seriously.
"After viewing the covert video, Central Valley Meat is now working with the USDA to address any concerns the government and inspectors may have," it said in the statement. "We are confident in our ability to implement any directives (the Food Safety and Inspection Service) may have and that there are no food safety issues whatsoever involving our product."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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