Meatworks closed briefly after botched slaughter

Inspector writes Westport firm up after it takes four blows to stun cow

By Bruce Burdett
Posted 3/3/21

WESTPORT — An inspector’s witnessing of a cow’s killing gone wrong led to a brief shutdown recently for Meatworks, a slaughterhouse that opened two and a half years ago at 287 State …

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Meatworks closed briefly after botched slaughter

Inspector writes Westport firm up after it takes four blows to stun cow

Posted

WESTPORT — An inspector’s witnessing of a cow’s killing gone wrong led to a brief shutdown recently for Meatworks, a slaughterhouse that opened two and a half years ago at 287 State Road in Westport.

US Department of Agriculture District Manager Michael Osifat reported that he visited Meatworks on Friday, Jan. 29, and watched an incident that he later described in writing as an “egregious humane handling incident.”

A public health veterinarian and consumer safety expert for the USDA, Dr. Osifat wrote that he watched as the Meatworks staff needed four shots with their “captive bolt stun” to knock a cow unconscious.

A ‘bolt gun’ is “a device used for stunning animals prior to slaughter. “The goal of captive bolt stunning is to inflict a forceful strike (to the head) with the bolt in order to induce unconsciousness” before the animal is bled to death.

In a noltice of suspension addressed to Barry Gross, plant manager of Meatworks, Dr. Osifat reported that, “After the first cow of the day was loaded into the chute and head restraint, the first captive bolt stun attempt was ineffective as evidenced by the animal remained standing and alert with normal blinking and eye tracking.” 

After a second shot “with the pre-positioned, back-up captive bolt device” the cow was still conscious and standing with normal eye blinking and tracking.”

For the third try, “The establishment employees then attempted to stun the cow with the first captive bolt that had been reloaded.” After this attempt “the animal dropped slightly and closed its eyes, however within a couple of seconds opened its eyes again and had normal blinking and was alert, looking around the room.”

Only after a fourth blow to the head did the cow drop and apparently lose consciousness evidenced by lack of eye blinking, eye tracking or voluntary movement.

Dr. Osifat continued, “The animal remained in this state throughout the rest of the bleeding and dressing procedures. On post-mortem investigation of the skull, there were three holes off the midline to the cow’s left. that penetrated the sinus cavity. The fourth hole was 1/2 inch higher than the previous three and directly on midline that penetrated the cranium as evidenced by brain matter being observed.”

He continued, “A regulatory control action was taken and a U.S. Reject tag ... was applied to the stun box due to the establishment’s failure to comply with the regulations … The establishment was operating under a Robust Systematic Approach however it was not properly implemented.”

The inspector noted that federal regulation requires that “The captive bolt stunner shall be applied to the livestock … to produce immediate unconsciousness in the animals before they are shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut. The animals shall be stunned in such a manner that they will be rendered unconscious with a minimum of excitement and discomfort.”

In its suspension letter, the USDA directed Meatworks to:

• Evaluate and identify the nature and cause of the incident.

• Explain the specific reason(s) why the event occurred.

• Describe the specific actions taken to eliminate the cause of the incident.

• Describe specific planned actions that you will take to prevent future reoccurrences.”

Andy Burnes, president of the Livestock Institute of Southern New England which owns and operates Meatworks, said that Meatworks responded to all questions promptly and that the USDA approved corrective action plans and allowed the plant to reopen after what amounted to a one-day suspension.

USDA required that Meatworks slow the pace of its cow slaughter initially to assure that the corrective measures are working effectively. The head of each cow must be analyzed to demonstrate that the bolt penetrated in a way as to cause unconsciousness.

Contacted later, Mr. Gross provided a written statement about the incident (see accomopanying item). Asked how frequently a veterinarian/inspector is present at Meatworks, Mr. Gross replied, “Veterinary inspection happens on a daily basis.”

PETA responds

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called on  the Bristol County District Attorney’s office to investigate the case and filed animal cruelty charges against those involved in the cow incident.

“PETA is calling for a criminal investigation on behalf of the cow who suffered at this facility and urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan and help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses,” said David Perle, a national spokesman for PETA.

 “This disturbing report shows that this cow experienced a prolonged, agonizing death at Meatworks,” he added.

A spokesman for the District Attorney’s office said the matter is under review.

Meatworks statement on January 29 incident

Barry Gross, plant manager, provided the following statement in response to Shorelines’ questions and request for comment:

All of us at Meatworks take humane animal handling very seriously. It is at the core of our work, and we continue to operate under a “Robust Systematic Approach to Humane Handling” as recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture. In our two-and-a-half years of operation, we have humanely processed more than 5,000 animals compassionately raised by local producers. On January 29, 2021, during the stunning of a beef animal, the initial stuns missed their target by half an inch, and the animal was successfully stunned within seconds. We deeply regret that it took any longer than it should have. This has been the first and only such incident at our facility. We immediately developed a plan of corrective actions, including further training utilizing materials developed by Temple Grandin, management oversight, and verification. The incident occurred on a Friday, and FSIS issued an Abeyance letter on Monday. At no time were USDA inspection standards compromised, there was no interruption of USDA inspection, and processing operations continued.

Following a review on April 16, 2019, Meatworks was recommended by AWA for the slaughter of beef from Animal Welfare Approved farms. Meatworks has been in contact with the program and they are working with us – for any further details, contact the AGW office.

Meatworks cares deeply about humane animal handling and welfare. Following the Westport Animal Abuse case in 2016, our organization supported the ASPCA in their efforts to help the surviving animals. USDA inspection happens on a continuous basis every single production day at Meatworks. Without

USDA FSIS personnel in the facility at all times, we can not perform our work. The mission statement of FSIS is to protect the public’s health by ensuring the safety of meat, including verifying the health of animals entering the food system. This not only protects consumers but can help producer farmers in thhusbandry practices.

The work of our 28 employees is an important part of the local agricultural community, providing quality processing that enables producer farmers to bring local product to market, gives consumers in our community sustainable sources of meat for themselves and their families, and helps protect open farm space from overdevelopment.

Our facility is proud of its basis in transparency and truth, and will continue to address this issue in a clear and open manner. All of us at Meatworks take humane animal handling very seriously. It is at the core of our work, and we continue to operate under a “Robust Systematic Approach to Humane Handling” as recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture. 

In our two-and-a-half years of operation, we have humanely processed more than 5,000 animals compassionately raised by local producers. On January 29, 2021, during the stunning of a beef animal, the initial stuns missed their target by half an inch, and the animal was successfully stunned within seconds. We deeply regret that it took any longer than it should have. This has been the first and only such incident at our facility. We immediately developed a plan of corrective actions, including further training utilizing materials developed by Temple Grandin, management oversight, and verification. 

The incident occurred on a Friday, and FSIS issued an Abeyance letter on Monday. At no time were USDA inspection standards compromised, there was no interruption of USDA inspection, and processing operations continued.

Following a review on April 16, 2019, Meatworks was recommended by AWA for the slaughter of beef from Animal Welfare Approved farms. Meatworks has been in contact with the program and they are working with us – for any further details, contact the AGW office.

Meatworks cares deeply about humane animal handling and welfare. Following the Westport Animal Abuse case in 2016, our organization supported the ASPCA in their efforts to help the surviving animals.

USDA inspection happens on a continuous basis every single production day at Meatworks. Without USDA FSIS personnel in the facility at all times, we can not perform our work. The mission statement of FSIS is to protect the public’s health by ensuring the safety of meat, including verifying the health of animals entering the food system. This not only protects consumers but can help producer farmers in their husbandry practices.

The work of our 28 employees is an important part of the local agricultural community, providing qualityprocessing that enables producer farmers to bring local product to market, gives consumers in our community sustainable sources of meat for themselves and their families, and helps protect open farm space from overdevelopment.

Our facility is proud of its basis in transparency and truth, and will continue to address this issue in a clea rand open manner.

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