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Originally published Tuesday, August 31, 2010 at 5:50 PM

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Costco bans treatment of veal calves that industry calls typical

Costco spells out policy for veal suppliers defining what it considers humane treatment of animals.

Seattle Times business reporter

Costco Wholesale decried the treatment of veal calves by a supplier in Ohio, saying the company did not know about it before seeing video taken by the activist group Mercy for Animals.

The video shows calves chained by their necks in narrow pens, which Costco learned is common practice at some veal farms.

"We are extremely disappointed, not only with the performance of our supplier in this instance, but with our own performance as well," CEO Jim Sinegal said in a press release. "We hold ourselves to a high standard, and in this case, we plainly did not perform to that standard."

Costco, the country's third-largest retailer, does not sell veal in the Pacific Northwest. It did not say how much veal it sells.

The chain will continue taking delivery of veal from its sole supplier, Atlantic Veal and Lamb of New York, which buys meat from some 120 farms including Buckeye Veal Farm near Wooster, Ohio, where the video was taken, said Jeff Lyons, Costco's senior vice president of fresh foods. Atlantic's brand is Plume de Veau.

Costco's policy for all suppliers is that animals used for its products be treated humanely.

Atlantic told the chain that some of its farms handle their calves as seen in the video, and that it is considered an acceptable practice, Lyons said.

"We're telling them flat-out that it's not acceptable to us, and we will not accept any veal from those farms, period," he said. "They're going to have to go by our guidelines and policy, regardless of whether that's considered normal practice. It's not for us, and that might sound arrogant, but we just don't think that's the way to treat an animal."

The calves that Costco employees have seen on farm visits were not chained in narrow cages, Lyons said.

Their circumstances were in line with a more specific policy Costco issued Tuesday regarding veal calves.

"It's not uncommon that they'd show us the best operation, but our people had no clue the animals were treated like this, and they're a little ticked off," Lyons said.

Costco's new policy requires that calves not be tethered, that their stalls be large enough to move around and lie down, and that there be at least two calves to a stall.

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They must be inspected at least twice a day by a caregiver and be given nutritious feed and fresh water. The farms must have a third-party veterinarians and third-party annual audits, and — although the video made no indication of this — the calves cannot be touched by electric prods or be put into the food supply if they are not ambulatory.

Mercy for Animals of Chicago shot the video in April.

Lyons said the group brought a DVD copy to Costco's headquarters in Issaquah on Monday, and he wishes they had let the company know sooner so the problem could have been addressed before now.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com

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