By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department and the Vermont state agriculture agency said they pulled operating licenses on Friday for a Vermont slaughter plant after viewing footage of mistreated veal calves.
The footage was from the Humane Society of the United States, which said it conducted an undercover investigation at Bushway Packing Inc of Grand Isle, Vermont, in August and September.
The video footage showed veal calves being "kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment," the Humane Society said in a release.
A worker who answered the telephone at the plant on Friday said he didn't know anything about the investigation and could not confirm the plant had been shut.
One of the plant's owners, John McCracken, told Reuters he had just found out about the allegations and declined comment.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the treatment shown in the video "unequivocally unacceptable" and said USDA would investigate whether employees and an inspector with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service violated the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
"The behavior of FSIS and establishment personnel witnessed in this video is inexcusable," Vilsack said in a statement.
USDA's inspector general will conduct a criminal investigation, he said.
Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee said the state would participate in the investigation. The Humane Society notified the state and the USDA of the issue on Wednesday, he said in a statement.
"These practices are not representative of the industry as a whole in Vermont and such actions will not be tolerated in our state," Allbee said. "The (agriculture) agency is taking every action within its power to address the situation."
The Humane Society applauded the governments for "taking decisive action" on the issue.
The organization's investigation two years ago at the Hallmark Meat Packing Co plant in California led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history and led to new regulations forbidding the slaughter of cattle too sick or injured to walk.
Temple Grandin, an expert in humane handling of animals at the University of Colorado, also reviewed the footage. She said the conditions were not as severe as those in the Hallmark investigation but that the plant's practices were unacceptable.
(Editing by Christian Wiessner)