A Central California cattle slaughterhouse that came under fire and was temporarily shut down after undercover video showed abuse of cows has resumed sales of meat to a federal program that supplies school lunches.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that it had begun purchasing beef again from Central Valley Meat Co. after an animal cruelty investigation was announced in mid-August, temporarily shutting the Hanford plant down.
The agency last year purchased 21 million pounds of beef from the slaughterhouse for use in the National School Lunch Program – which feeds millions of schoolchildren across the country – and other federal food programs.
The USDA statement said improved oversight for animal welfare at the slaughterhouse had prompted the government to begin purchasing again.
"On September 4, 2012, Central Valley Meat Co. satisfactorily completed an onsite Animal Welfare audit which resulted in AMS deeming CVM eligible to supply product to the Federal feeding programs on September 5, 2012," the USDA said in a statement to NBC4.
Officials with the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service concluded last week that inspectors had found no evidence of sick cattle entering the food supply.
An undercover video released Aug. 21 by activist group Compassion Over Killing showed workers kicking and shocking downed cattle in an attempt to herd them to slaughter. That prompted the USDA to order the plant temporarily closed.
The federal government tehn suspended its purchases from Central Valley Meat Co. Restaurant franchise chains McDonald's and In-N-Out, as well as the warehouse store chain Costco, had also said they had suspended purchases.
A spokesman for In-N-Out said Tuesday that the company had not decided whether to resume its purchasing.
On Aug. 31, the USDA released a memo (PDF) saying that there was no evidence that a downer cow had entered the food supply -- a scenario that would create a federal food safety violation.
The memo said that the agency had reviewed the company's "extensive corrective action plan" in response to "humane handling violations."
"As a result, the company will resume packing and shipping existing meat orders purchased by USDA for the National School Lunch Program," the memo stated.
A local newspaper, the Hanford Sentinel, reported Tuesday that Edelman Worldwide, a public relations firm hired by Central Valley Meat, said in an email that the company "isn’t discussing the USDA’s decision right now."
The USDA said Monday it would conduct quarterly audits at the plant until it successfully completes four audits in a row. After that, it will audit the company semi-annually.