A cow, too sick or injured to stand, is delivered to Bravo Packing. From the moment the truck backs up to the facility door, she is forced to endure 10 minutes of torture while several botched attempts are made to stun her. During this time, she is dragged roughly by a metal chain from the truck and slammed onto the concrete, where she lies writhing in blood and feces while a worker prepares other carcasses for pet food.
Source: Animal Outlook/Youtube
This footage, obtained in 2021 by an Animal Outlook undercover investigator, is not the first time Bravo Packing, which slaughters cows for dog food and horses for exotic pet food, has been called out for animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions. But for years, they’ve abused animals and flouted food safety requirements with no significant consequences. That is until April of this year when the Department of Justice filed a legal complaint against Bravo Packing on behalf of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to halt their operations until they adhere to federal food safety requirements.
Animal Outlook is determined to ensure that Bravo Packing is held accountable for the torture they have inflicted on countless cows and horses and for the risks they have posed to the health of pets and exotic animals who consume their products.
In 2008, actor and horse activist Amanda Sorvino captured graphic video and images of emaciated horses, a horse who’d been smashed in the eye with a baseball bat, another with a severe bacterial infection of one leg, and a Bravo Packing employee openly discussing skinning horses alive. In 2009, Monty Merola, the son of the owner of Bravo Packing, was charged with two counts of animal cruelty but died before he could be convicted.
In 2018, a consumer complaint was filed, alleging that horses were intentionally starved to produce “lean quality” meat for exotic animal food. It was also claimed that severely emaciated horses and downed cows, some with injuries and open wounds, were left to languish on filthy concrete floors beside dead cows, pools of blood, and body parts, while sick and skeletal animals delivered to Bravo Packing were kept in barren pens and fed moldy hay. They were left to suffer for prolonged periods before eventually being slaughtered.
While cows are slaughtered in the millions each year for human consumption, the slaughter of horses for human consumption is currently prevented only due to an annual budget proviso keeping the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service from providing inspection services. As such, horses cannot be slaughtered in the U.S. for human consumption. A bill, The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, has been proposed but not yet passed, which would ban the slaughter of horses in the U.S. and close a loophole by ensuring they are not exported out of the country to be slaughtered elsewhere.
The slaughter of horses for consumption by animals—including their use as food for pets and exotic animals—is even less regulated, and this lack of oversight allows companies such as Bravo Packing to continue to operate. Currently, no federal law prohibits the slaughter of horses to be used as pet food or exotic animal food. The FDA allows this practice and only requires that such products identify “horse meat” on the label. Furthering the lack of regulation, the USDA does not provide inspection services to slaughter facilities that do not produce food capable of human consumption, believing that federal law does not require it to do so.
Bravo Packing’s history of food safety issues is as extensive as the allegations against them for animal cruelty. In 2016, the FDA found that horse meat from Bravo Packing was contaminated with pentobarbital and phenytoin, which are drugs used in euthanasia and could be dangerous to animals ingesting the meat. In 2018, the FDA received a consumer complaint alleging that Bravo Packing products are produced “from dead, dying, and disabled livestock,” including horses euthanized using sodium pentobarbital and that the company’s marketing claims that it only used beef obtained from USDA-inspected plants were fraudulent. In response, the FDA inspected Bravo Packing and subsequently announced a recall of all Performance Dog products because of their potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.
In 2019, the FDA inspected Bravo Packing as a follow-up to the 2018 recall. During this inspection, the FDA collected a sample of Performance Dog food that tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Accordingly, the FDA declared the raw pet foods Bravo Packing manufactured to be “adulterated.” The FDA publicly cautioned pet owners not to feed their pets any Performance Dog products and to throw the product away “in a secure container where other animals, including wildlife, cannot access it.”
Animal Outlook submitted a detailed complaint against Bravo Packing to the FDA and the New Jersey Department of Health on December 10, 2020, after we conducted laboratory testing on a sample of Bravo Packing’s Performance Dog frozen raw pet food and discovered that it contained Salmonella. Our complaint accused Bravo Packing of violating the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as well as analogous New Jersey food safety laws, by selling adulterated pet food.
The FDA then inspected Bravo Packing’s facility in New Jersey, tested samples of its products, and found Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes contamination, including one strain of pathogens that had been present in the facility for years. The FDA announced a recall of the company’s main dog food products on March 3, 2021. Following Animal Outlook’s laboratory test and complaint, the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the FDA, filed a legal complaint against Bravo Packing in April 2022 to halt their operations until they comply with federal food safety requirements.
Within just one week of filing this complaint, the DOJ entered into an agreement whereby Bravo Packing would close down unless they hired a sanitation expert to assess their compliance with federal laws, train their employees on cleaning and handling requirements, submit regular reports to the FDA, allow unannounced FDA inspections, and recall any food distributed since early 2021. Bravo Packing, which has been in operation for over 60 years, has a lot of work to do before it can comply with food safety requirements. This could be the final note in the long and tragic saga of animal abuse and filth.
But food safety issues are hardly the only concern at Bravo Packing. Animal Outlook’s June 2021 undercover investigation at the slaughterhouse once again showed the horrific cruelty animals face at this facility. Our footage showed a non-ambulatory or “downed” cow being delivered to Bravo Packing and cruelly slaughtered in a protracted episode we believe violated both state and federal laws.
In this footage, a worker is seen entering the trailer where the cow lies, suffering from an apparent illness or injury impairing her ability to stand. The worker makes the first of many attempts to stun the cow using a handheld captive bolt pistol. This device is designed to drive a steel bolt into the cow’s head to fracture the skull and cause trauma to the brain and surrounding blood vessels. This action should have rendered the cow unconscious.
Next, a metal chain is attached to the cow, and she is dragged off the trailer until she slips over the edge and slams onto the concrete. There she lies writhing in blood and feces. The cow is seen “displaying clear signs of consciousness” during this time, according to a veterinarian who reviewed the video. “Her repeated distressed vocalizations and bodily movements clearly indicate distress, pain, and suffering,” the veterinarian added.
Over the course of the nearly 17-minute video, it takes three more attempts to stun the cow. It was almost ten minutes from the first attempt until she was finally rendered unconscious. Between each unsuccessful stun attempt, the worker nonchalantly works on other tasks while the cow kicks and moans until, eventually, the worker succeeds in stunning her. Finally, he shackles her, hoists her, and cuts her throat.
On completion of this investigation, Animal Outlook showed this footage to the local police department and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. They conducted a subsequent inspection of Bravo Packing. However, disappointingly they declined to recommend criminal charges.
Determined to seek justice for the suffering cow, Animal Outlook filed a citizen’s criminal complaint in May of 2022 with the municipal court, an approach similar to that used in our case against a Pennsylvania dairy that ultimately resulted in a legal victory.
In 2018, an Animal Outlook investigator spent nearly three months working undercover at Martin Farms, a Pennsylvania dairy facility. Despite presenting hours of footage showing violent abuse to cows and calves, the Pennsylvania State Police and District Attorney refused to prosecute for animal cruelty and neglect. Animal Outlook then submitted a private complaint to the Franklin County District Attorney, who agreed the case was without merit, followed by a request for a judge to review the case, who subsequently agreed with the District Attorney.
Animal Outlook then appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and the case was heard by three judges. These judges ruled that the Franklin County District Attorney and lower court judge were incorrect in their decision that the Martin Farms case was without merit and ordered the lower court to require the District Attorney to file charges against those who abused cows at Martin Farms. The District Attorney has appealed this decision and continues refusing to prosecute this case. Animal Outlook is prepared to continue this court battle until justice prevails.
We are hoping that our recent cruelty complaint, coupled with the federal enforcement action, may just be enough pressure to finally shut down Bravo Packing, which for decades has been abusing animals and risking the lives of pets and exotic animals.
For more information on Animal Outlook’s investigations and legal advocacy and to show your support, please visit www.animaloutlook.org. Want to do more to help animals? Visit www.tryveg.com to find out more.
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