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Feds suspend operations at NJ slaughterhouse, say some animals were treated inhumanely

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One of the country's largest veal and lamb companies was temporarily barred from processing meat after federal officials viewed secretly shot video showing animals being treated inhumanely at its New Jersey slaughterhouse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday suspended slaughtering operations at Catelli Brothers Inc. in Shrewsbury. The company promised co-operation with investigators, and said it has already hired an expert on animal care and handling in meat plants to help it prevent future problems.

In one video clip, a cow had its neck slit and was bleeding profusely but was still conscious after being shot several times with a stun gun. In another, a calf that was unable to walk was being dragged.

Both instances violate federal rules which require that animals slaughtered for human consumption be treated humanely leading up to and during slaughter.

"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," said Tony Catelli, the company's president and CEO. "Any mistreatment of animals at our facility is unacceptable, and our established practices strictly prohibit the processing of any downed calves."

He said the company is prepared to do whatever it must to correct problems and resume production.

The Humane Society of the United States, which sent the video to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and posted excerpts on YouTube, said in a statement the video shows "egregious inhumane handling of calves in violation of federal law."

The Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the agriculture department, said Monday the length of the suspension will depend on how quickly the company responds to the allegations. It must identify what went wrong and what led to it; describe specific actions taken to eliminate the cause of the problem; and what sort of monitoring activities the company plans to ensure that new violations do not occur.

It determined that Catelli Brothers had violated two regulations: one prohibiting the dragging of conscious disabled animals or animals that are unable to move and a regulation requiring that an animal be rendered unconscious immediately after receiving a stunning blow.

The agency noted in its suspension letter that Catelli Brothers "does have a comprehensive or 'robust' systematic approach to its humane handling program," but said that program was not consistently applied to all animals it handled.

The company's website says it is one of the largest veal and lamb companies in the nation, employing more than 250 people. It also processes chicken and beef.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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