OLYMPIA - The conclusion of an 11-month inquiry into alleged violations of humane slaughter, worker safety and food safety laws at the IBP, Inc. beef
packing plant in Wallula was announced today by Jim Jesernig, director of Agriculture; Gary Moore, director of Labor and Industries; and Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
Gov. Gary Locke initiated the investigation in response to a petition, affidavits and a video submitted by the Humane Farming Association and 11 other groups alleging that animals were being improperly handled at the IBP plant. The Department of Agriculture was instructed to assemble an investigative team that also included the Department of Labor and Industries and the Washington State Patrol. The Attorney General's Office, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Walla Walla County Prosecutor's Office were also asked to participate.
The Washington State Patrol investigated the allegations of criminal violations of the humane slaughter and animal cruelty laws on behalf of the investigative team. The results were turned over to Walla Walla County prosecutor Jim Nagle, as provided in state law. Nagle, assisted by a group of other prosecuting attorneys, reviewed the case and determined there was not sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges.
Nagle was especially impressed by a comparison video prepared by investigators, which shows sequences from the five-minute videotape provided with the petition side-by-side with portions of unedited video footage obtained during the investigation. The short videotape appears to have been edited to delete footage showing that IBP employees promptly corrected several "bad acts."
In a separate development, an agreement was reached between the state Department of Agriculture and IBP that allows the department to monitor animal slaughtering practices at IBP's Wallula plant. The company also agreed to cooperate with Agriculture's goal of improving livestock handling practices at the plant. Under the agreement, Department of Agriculture staff will be allowed immediate, unannounced access to the IBP plant. Among other things, the department will verify that IBP:
Continues existing training programs for employees and supervisors responsible for handling live animals. These programs address stunning, handling live animals, signs of sensibility in animals, and legal requirements for handling live animals.
Continues hands-on training for stunners to ensure that only experienced, well-trained employees carry out stunning operations.
Implements a training program to educate employees down the line from stunning and sticking operations on signs of sensibility in animals.
The agreement allows the Department of Agriculture to inspect relevant IBP records and videotapes. It is effective through Sept. 30, 2002 and can be extended.
In response to allegations of worker safety violations, the Department of Labor and Industries conducted an extensive review of the IBP plant and its operations in February 2001. The inspection team included two industrial hygienists who spent four days on-site, and two safety and health specialists who spent three days on-site. No violations were found related to the allegations in the petition. Six serious violations of worker safety laws were identified in other parts of the plant, and $8,960 in penalties was assessed.
Labor and Industries reported that, while the findings are significant, particularly in relation to the exposed employees, they are not extraordinary in an operation this size. In addition to the investigation, L&I has continuing responsibility to investigate worker complaints and conduct worker safety compliance inspections.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has inspectors in the plant whenever it is operating to enforce food safety standands. USDA did not note any significant food safety violations during the investigation period.
Gov. Locke thanked the task force members for their hard work on the case. "This investigation required months of work and I appreciate the dedication demonstrated by team members from the state and federal governments. I'd also like to thank Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle and his staff."
"The accusations brought forward were very serious," Locke said. "The case report indicates a thorough investigation. I believe that the agreement reached between the Department of Agriculture and IBP, after the investigation was concluded, will well serve the public interest."
Jesernig, Moore and Gregoire all expressed support for the decision of the Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney. "The Washington State Patrol did an outstanding job on a difficult case," Jesernig said, "Our agreement was designed to address concerns about the humane treatment of animals during slaughter, whether criminal charges were filed or not. Under the agreement, we will be monitoring the situation at IBP to help ensure animals are properly handled."
For more information about the IBP investigation, visit the Department of Agriculture's Web site.