Efrain Toledo injured cow found on side of road, 16 animals seized Watsonville, CA May 2, 2008
  owner of slaughterhouse cited for inhumane death of sheep Watsonville, CA July 14, 2008

A state agriculture official inspected the Watsonville slaughterhouse where malnourished and injured livestock were removed earlier this week. However, the plant continued to operate and officials said there is not an imminent food safety concern.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture inspector, who is a veterinarian, declined to comment while visiting the Toledo Harkins Slough Ranch on Lee Road and state officials said that they had not completed their investigation.

"They're still investigating and cooperating with local officials," said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture, adding the investigating will continue through the weekend and possibly into next week.

The facility owner, Efrain Toledo, declined to comment.

County Animal Services supervisor Todd Stosuy, who alerted state officials to concerns about the slaughterhouse, said "they were pretty taken aback" to hear about the condition of the 16 animals rescued from the facility.

Lyle said the slaughterhouse has not had problems in the past. The business has been in operation for at least five years, according to Stosuy.

"It has a history of being a clean, well-run facility," Lyle said.

The slaughterhouse continued to do business during the unscheduled state inspection, which lasted less than a half-hour. About 85 apparently healthy animals remained on the property and no additional livestock were removed during the inspection.

"We don't believe there's any food safety concern relative to this issue and that's based on the history there," Lyle said.

However, the inspector did express concerns about the way the facility was run, according to Stosuy.

"He (the inspector) definitely knows there's a problem. He wants to help fix the problem," Stosuy said, explaining he thought closing the slaughterhouse could result in Toledo operating the business illegally so it's better that the state continue to monitor its operation.

A state official inspects the facility once a week, according to Lyle.

"When the facility is slaughtering, a state licensed meat inspector must be on hand, and that's in addition to the weekly inspection," he said. "We inspect animals just before they're slaughtered ... and we saw nothing amiss in that process."

But state officials only check the condition of the slaughterhouse and the livestock just before they are put down - not other elements of the business, such as the animals' living conditions or what they're being fed, according to Lyle.

Animal neglect issues fall to county authorities, such as Animal Services.

Stosuy noticed a cow bleeding profusely from its horn and initiated an investigation at Toledo Harkins Slough Ranch. He took custody of the injured cow, a dozen underweight goats that were coughing and had hoof problems, a malnourished sheep and two rabbits living on bread.

The remaining livestock, including pigs, chickens and additional goats, sheep and cows, appeared healthy and were left at the feedlot next to the slaughtering plant.

Local agriculture officials, including county Farm Bureau leaders, said they did not know a slaughterhouse was operating in the county.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture - not the U.S. Department of Agriculture - regulates "custom slaughterhouses," including the Toledo Harkins Slough Ranch. The facilities are small, specialty slaughterhouses and there are about 50 across the state, according to Lyle. The facilities are licensed to kill livestock and market the meat.

Toledo, the owner, voluntarily gave up the ailing livestock. Six of the goats and the sheep were relocated to The Animal Place, a farm sanctuary near Vacaville. The remaining animals likely will be placed in with other rescue groups in the coming days, although two goats may need to be euthanized due to the severity of their conditions, according to Stosuy.

Animal Services officers are consulting with the District Attorney's Office to determine if animal neglect charges will be filed.

Update 7/14/08:

A slaughterhouse owner already under investigation for improperly treating his animals was cited for failing to provide a humane death for a sheep he killed.

Efrain Toledo, who owns Toledo Harkins Slough Ranch on Lee Road, was cited for not stunning a sheep before killing it, as required by California law, said Todd Stosuy, the county's Animal Services supervisor.

Stunning is required to stop an animal destined for slaughter from feeling pain as it dies, Stosuy said. Often it's done using a captive bolt gun.

Instead, Stosuy said, he watched Toledo put the sheep in a contraption that flipped it upside down, and then Toledo slit the animal's neck. The sheep took a few minutes to die, Stosuy said.

Toledo was cited for allegedly failing to provide a humane death for being slaughtered.

"I think that people who eat meat don't want the animals they eat to have suffered," Stosuy said.

Toledo could not be reached for comment.

The ongoing investigation of the slaughterhouse began in May, when Stosuy noticed from the road an injured cow whose horn was squirting blood. More than two dozen sick and injured goats, sheep, rabbits and a cow eventually were removed from the facility at that time, and Toledo was cited for animal neglect.

Toledo was given a 30-day notice to provide veterinary care for the remaining animals. Animal Services officers returned to the slaughterhouse to make sure the animals had received medical attention and found the goat being slaughtered, officials said.

According to state officials, the slaughterhouse is one of about 50 "custom slaughterhouses" across California, and is monitored by the state Department of Food and Agriculture. It has been in business about five years, and does not have a history of problems.


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