Plant at Center of Largest Ever Salmonella Ground Beef Recall Accused of “Inhumane” Animal Treatment in USDA FSIS Inspection Records
Enforcement notice records issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) last year show that the JBS meat facility in Tolleson, AZ--recently at the center of 7 million pound ground beef recall due to Salmonella contamination--had previously been called out regarding the condition of their plant and animal welfare practices.
In a July 2017 USDA FSIS Notice of Intended Enforcement issued to the JBS president, officials vowed to stop issuing marks of inspection for the company’s products and to suspend inspections of the slaughtering operations in Tolleson. USDA FSIS noted in the letter that these actions were due to JBS’s “failure to maintain or implement required controls to prevent the inhumane handling and slaughtering of livestock at your establishment and to appropriately handle animals”.
During a July 25, 2017 inspection, USDA FSIS inspectors noted the following at the JBS Tolleson plant:
- nonambulatory cows in the pens that were lying in distress
- one cow in Pen 19 lying on her side and unable to rise, mentally incoherent, having difficulty breathing, and repetitively making a kicking motion with its legs while moaning as if in pain
- another cow down in Pen 15, also lying on its side, unable to rise, mentally incoherent, and also struggling to breathe while making kicking motions with its legs
The USDA FSIS letter states,
“This is an egregious act of inhumane handling of animals in connection with slaughter, as a result of your establishment employee actions of mishandling livestock that were in significant distress. Title 9 CFR 313.50(b) states, If the cause of inhumane treatment is the result of establishment employee actions in the handling or moving of livestock, the inspector shall attach a "U.S. Rejected" tag to the alleyways leading to the stunning area." This constitutes failure to adhere to the regulatory requirements of the humane handling and slaughter of livestock, as required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. 603(b), the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the regulations promulgated thereunder.
The letter concluded with a demand that JBS Tolleson respond in writing to USDA FSIS, and that response would then determine how the agency would move forward.
In just two days, the Tolleson plant responded to the USDA FSIS letter, appealing (via email) the agency’s previous Notice of Intended Enforcement and asking for the agency’s action to be dismissed. JBS Tolleson argued that, despite what official inspection records show, their “program was operating in compliance with FSIS regulations and expectations, as well as in a manner consistent with recognized industry humane standards."
In September 2017, the plant’s appeal was denied. However, weeks of back and forth communication and document sharing between the agency and the Tolleson plant led to a win for the facility. The letter reads,
“After a careful and thorough review of the corrective actions and preventative measures your establishment provided to the Alameda District Office from August 30, 2017, through October 12, 2017, FSIS has decided to defer further enforcement actions to afford you the opportunity to implement your proposed action plan.”
The Tolleson, AZ, plant is owned by Brazilian parent JBS S/A and its JBS USA subsidiary.