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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beef Plant Conditions 'Awful'

Once strung up by their hind legs at the Moscow slaughterhouse, cattle return to consciousness even after a 100-volt electric shock, flailing as they await the knife.

Nowhere is the slaughter of livestock either kind or attractive. But by Western standards, the Mikoms Moscow Meatpacking factory harks back to an earlier era, before the advent of animal rights and sanitation inspectors, when brutality and poor hygiene were the norm.

Here at Mikoms begins the production of much of the meat that Muscovites and foreigners alike consume, whether it comes across a McDonald's hamburger counter, from a hard-currency butcher or a street sausage vendor.

Hard-currency stores often tell their customers that their meat is bought from the McDonald's farm in the Moscow region. But the farm produces no meat, a McDonald's official said, and the company instead chooses the best cuts from among eight Russian suppliers, of which Mikoms is one.

Moscow's hard-currency stores fly in many cuts of meat, but when you buy ground beef from Stockmann, kebabs from Intercar or any fresh meat from the Irish House, it comes from Russia.

There are other slaughterhouses around Moscow, but Mikoms is the only one inside the city. Spanning 33 hectares just southeast of Moscow's ring with 6, 000 workers, it is also the largest in Russia.

Since its creation in 1931, equipment and methods have changed little here, even after the factory privatized in October 1991, plant workers say.

Soot covers many of the walls, bits of blood and meat are scattered across aging, cracked floor areas of the slaughterhouse, and although not spotted on a recent tour, workers say rats and insects are frequent visitors.

Conveyor belts are made of porous materials, whidh means harmful bacteria can remain even after cleaning, said Robert Hoff, an officer at the local U. S. Department of Agriculture.

"It's not hygienic", said Hoff. "There's the likelihood that you could be eating meat that could have things that are harmful that you dont suspect".

Yevgeny Belyayev, head of the Russian Federation's Sanitary-Epidemiological Committee, said, "There are some departments in this meat factory that have high quality, but in general this is a very low-quality institution. It produces good products, but working conditions are very hard, some are awful".

To rebuild and modernize the plant would cost about $200 million, which the factory lacks even though it is profitable, said Vladimir Kiselev, deputy general director on economic affairs.

Anatoly Sankov, a 42-year veteran of the slaughterhouse, long ago grew accustomed to the factory's conditions, and from supervising a wide crop of workers he has learned that it typically takes about three or four months before one grows indifferent to the slaughter and the gore.

Cattle arrive at the plant daily by train as well as truck. In a day, 1, 500 pigs and 600 cows are lead from their temporary holding pens to their deaths.

Many cattle experts say the final seconds of pain suffered by Mikom's animals makes the slaughter procedure inhumane and antiquated.

"The technology of killing is from the past", said Belyayev, the top health enforcement officer in Russia. "It should be changed".

In America and much of Europe, slaughterhouses employ an electrical gun to the skull.

"When you put it between his eyes, he's dead gone", explained Richard Caldwell, an American investor in a Russian cattle farm.

In the West "the slaughter process would be more humane", added Hoff of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. "Most things around here are 30 to 40 years behind the times, and there's no reason why that should be any different".

Mikom's Sankov, however, said his method is preferable to that practiced in the West, because there "it is more like murder".

To what extent the method of slaughter affects the final quality of the meat remains debated.

"The cow should not feel that it is going to be killed, because the nervous system acts up and the quality falls", said Boris Rivkin, director of the Kumir meat store in downtown Moscow. Other meat experts say the slaughter does not really affect the quality, and Mikoms can point to their relationship with the master of the hamburger, McDonald's, as an endorsement of their product.

Ever since McDonald's opened its doors at Pushkin Square in 1990, it has bought from Mikoms, according to Glen Steeves, operation manager at McDonald's distribution and processing plant. To assure the quality, McDonald's experts inspect the cattle at Mikoms and transport away the beef shortly after the slaughter, Steeves said.