McDonald's today became the second major U.S. fast food chain to stop buying beef from a California meat supplier after federal inspectors temporarily shut down the plant, citing evidence of "egregious, inhumane handling and treatment of livestock."
"Central Valley Meat (CVM) provided raw beef to several of our suppliers," said a McDonald's spokesperson. "However, upon learning about USDA's decision to suspend CVM, we took immediate action and suspended supply from this facility, pending further investigation."
The USDA took action after inspectors viewed an undercover video made at CVM's Hanford, California facility over two weeks last month by an investigator for the animal rights group, Compassion Over Killing.
The video, which first aired publicly Tuesday on "World News with Diane Sawyer," shows workers using electric prods on cattle that can barely walk. Compassion Over Killing also alleged that the company used potentially diseased "downer cows" and treated them in an inhumane manner.
On Tuesday, prior to the ABC News report, In-N-Out Burger announced that it would suspend purchases from CVM, which had provided 20 to 30 percent of the chain's beef.
In a statement to ABC News, the chain's chief operating officer, Mark Taylor, said, "In-N-Out Burger would never condone the inhumane treatment of animals, and, in fact, all of our suppliers must agree to abide by our strict standards for the humane treatment of cattle."
CVM is also a supplier of beef to U.S. schoolchildren. The USDA purchased 21 million pounds of meat from CVM last year for Federal feeding programs, which includes the National School Lunch Program. CVM provided 15.7 percent of the total beef purchased by the USDA in 2011.
Both McDonald's and the USDA stress that there were no food safety issues that prompted the shutdown at CVM and that beef purchased there was not compromised.
"McDonald's cares about how our food is sourced and we have a long history of action and commitment to improve the welfare of animals in our supply chain," said McDonald's in a statement. "There are behaviors in the video which appear to be unacceptable and would not adhere to the standards we demand of our suppliers."
McDonald's also characterized CVM as an "extremely small supplier" of beef to the chain, accounting for a "low single digit" percentage of its beef supply.
In a statement, the USDA said, "The Department works to ensure that product purchased for the Federal feeding programs meets stringent food safety standards and that processors comply with humane handling regulations. While some of the footage provided from this facility shows unacceptable treatment of cattle, it does not show anything that would compromise food safety."
The president of Central Valley Meat, Brian Coelho, said Tuesday that his company "[takes] these allegations [of abuse] seriously and we are committed to correcting any problems identified on the video as quickly as we possibly can." Coelho said the allegations "are both disturbing and surprising" because the plant is "under continuous inspection by USDA Food Safety and Inspection personnel who are empowered to take immediate action when they observe a problem."
Erica Meier, the executive director of Compassion Over Killing, said the failure of on-site federal inspectors was its own red flag.
"These abuses inside slaughter houses across the country are often happening right under the nose of government inspectors," said Meier.