THE U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) withdrew its federal inspectors from the Catelli Brothers slaughter plant in Shrewsbury, N.J., Jan. 24 after The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a complaint claiming "egregious inhumane handling of calves in violation of federal law."
HSUS alleged that the plant violated the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and continues to ask USDA to close a loophole in federal policy that allows the slaughter of non-ambulatory veal calves.
After reviewing the legal complaint and undercover video footage provided to the agency by HSUS, FSIS began investigating the plant.
According to FSIS, the regulatory action was determined after reviewing footage filmed in the plant from Sept. 10 to Oct. 31, 2013.
In the Notice of Suspension, FSIS stated that on Jan. 24, its "Office of Field Operations personnel — experts in humane handling and slaughter regulations — thoroughly evaluated the video's Exhibit A and Exhibit C. Two specific scenes were determined to be egregious inhumane handling and slaughter of cattle at (the Shrewsbury) facility."
Regulators said several incidents occurred involving workers dragging calves that were still conscious but unable to move. In another instance, the report says a calf hanging on the kill line was still conscious.
FSIS did note that Catelli has "a comprehensive or 'robust' systematic approach to its humane handling program," but it was not applied to all animals handled.
As indicated in the notice, all federal inspectors for slaughter operations to the plant have been suspended until Catelli provides written proof of corrective actions and preventive measures have been established.
Catelli is one of the largest veal and lamb companies in the U.S. and provides meat for the foodservice and consumer retail industries.
In a company statement, president Tony Catelli said, "For two generations, Catelli Brothers has recognized our ethical obligation for the well-being of calves that are in our care, and we take our commitment to humane treatment of every calf seriously. We are deeply concerned about the allegations that have been made regarding the care of calves at our facility. Any mistreatment of animals at our facility is unacceptable, and our established practices strictly prohibit the processing of any downed calves."
Immediately after the FSIS action, the company brought in an animal handling expert.
"In addition, the very day these concerns were brought to our attention, we retained one of the nation's leading experts on animal care and handling in meat plants, and he was on site within 24 hours to help us gather facts and identify necessary changes to ensure that we are providing optimal care and humane treatment of every calf that enters our facility. We are prepared to take the necessary action as the investigation warrants," Catelli said.
The company is cooperating fully with USDA officials to resolve the situation.