MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont slaughterhouse ordered closed Friday after video showed calves kicked, shocked and cut while conscious had its operating license suspended at least twice earlier this year for similar conduct.
U.S. Department of Agriculture records show Bushway Packing Inc. of Grand Isle was shut down for a day in May and again in June after an inspector cited it for inhumane treatment of animals.
The revelation came Monday as the Humane Society of the United States released more video footage taken with a hidden camera this summer. The video shows days-old male calves culled from dairy herds being dragged, kicked, repeatedly shocked with electric prods and apparently cut while still conscious.
"We found even two calves who appeared to be skinned alive while they were still conscious," said Michael Markarian, the Humane Society's chief operating officer.
The video also appeared to back up a Friday statement in which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described the conduct of a USDA inspector at the slaughterhouse as "inexcusable."
It showed an unidentified inspector appearing to coach a plant worker on how to avoid being shut down by another inspector and failing to stop an animal being cut while awake.
A call to the slaughterhouse on Monday was not immediately returned, nor was a call to a Ronald Bushway listed in Grand Isle.
USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver said Monday he could not comment on the inspector's conduct because it was a personnel matter.
Markarian said it appeared several calves were abused because they would not or could not stand up to be prepared for slaughter. The slaughterhouse specialized in "bob veal" — meat from days-old calves that ends up in hot dogs and lunch meats. Meat sold as veal usually come from animals raised to about 4 months old.
The plant processes a number of bob calves for veal from Vermont dairy farms, according to this article from the Addison County (Vt.) Independent.
In response to the events at Bushways Packing Inc. in Grand Isle, Vt., Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said:
"The deplorable scenes recorded in the video released by the Humane Society of the United States are unequivocally unacceptable. The callous behavior and attitudes displayed in the video clearly appear to be violations of USDA's humane-handling regulations.
"USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is investigating these alleged violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). FSIS took immediate action with respect to its employee and the establishment upon preliminary verification of the incident. The Department fully supports the investigation of all those involved in these alleged violations of the HMSA. To this end, I have also called on our Inspector General to conduct a criminal investigation of the events in the video.
"FSIS has a rigorous program to train inspection personnel in verifying humane handling and slaughter at establishments. When an FSIS employee observes behaviors that are not in compliance with the HMSA, they are obligated to take immediate action. The behavior of FSIS and establishment personnel witnessed in this video is inexcusable."
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The actions alleged at the Vermont slaughterhouse are inexcusable. The USDA needs to get its act together and stop these abuses before HSUS comes in and shoots undercover videotape. If anything, HSUS did us a favor here by hopefully lighting a fire under the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service.
I will now turn the floor over the Chuck Jolley, a columnist for Cattlenetwork, a sister publication of Dairy Herd Management. Chuck quoted a USDA press release saying the allegations, if verified, would warrant prompt corrective action. Then, he had this to say :
“If verified? Excuse me? HSUS has it on tape. Time and time again, they’ve managed to catch the bad guys doing inexcusable things. Meanwhile, the USDA with its much larger team of inspectors visiting thousands of facilities weekly can’t uncover one case of animal welfare violation? Somebody somewhere in the USDA hierarchy will have to explain why (HSUS president Wayne) Pacelle’s puny little posse manages to do what the feds can’t do.
“It has happened again and our industry has sustained another we-can’t-afford-it black eye. These bad actors must be found and removed from our industry immediately through the combined efforts of governmental and trade association pressure. Corrective action must be swift and indisputable. It must be so severe that any company operating anywhere within a hundred miles of the handling procedures ‘allegedly’ practiced at Bushways will quake in their corporate boots or preferably voluntarily exit the business before HSUS sneaks in their back door with video cam in hand.
“News like this — even if it does describe the tiniest percentage of harvesting facilities in the industry — paints the entire industry with the same brush. We’re talking tar and feathers, here. And a public that’s ready to ride the sinner out of town on a rail. It’s well past time to kick ass and take names. In matters of animal handling and food safety, the USDA and any other federal, state and local governmental entity involved must adopt an aggressive, zero-tolerance policy.
“With the growing transparency brought about by the internet and the increasingly effective and efficient surveillance of groups like HSUS insuring transparency, maybe the meat industry's best friend would be somebody like Bill Marler sitting in the Under Secretary for Food Safety's office.
“Bottom line: No plant - small, medium or large - can allow these practices to happen. Punishment must be swift and the nuclear option must be exercised. Padlock the doors permanently,” Jolley said.
Well said, Chuck. — Tom Quaife, editor