During the past nine months, federal meat regulators have cited a southern Minnesota beef processor for multiple breaches of humane slaughtering rules, suspending the plant’s production four times.
The most recent such sanction came just last month for Triple J Family Farms in Buffalo Lake, which opened in 2012 with a goal of processing 600 cattle per day. The plant, which takes in cattle from Minnesota and the Dakotas, caters to the kosher beef market.
The suspensions at Triple J appear to be only for a day or part of a day, as the company remedied the USDA’s inhumane slaughtering concerns. But suspensions aren’t common, and multiple suspensions within a year’s time are even more rare.
Of the 61 U.S. meat processing plants hit with inhumane-slaughtering suspensions for the 12 months ended March 31, 2013, only two facilities had three suspensions each, according to USDA data. A suspension occurs when the USDA tells a plant it will suspend the assignment of federal meat inspectors, which essentially shuts down production.
Triple J declined to comment on the suspensions. The company, a joint venture of a Chicago meat distributor and an Iowa feed lot operator, reopened the shuttered North Star Beef plant in April 2012. North Star was forced to close in 2009 because of excessive arsenic levels in its well water, a problem resolved by Triple J.
Triple J opened with about 80 workers, and the company told the Star Tribune in July 2012 it planned to eventually expand and employ 200. To boost production, it worked with the nearby city of Hector to increase wastewater processing capacity, a $2.5 million project. A state economic development grant of $1.1 million pitched in on the tab.
The suspensions at Triple J concerned problems observed by USDA inspectors in the “knock box” — an enclosure where cattle are stunned senseless — and the killing floor, where stunned cows are quickly bled to death. The stunning is done with a bolt gun, and if done correctly makes an animal insensitive to pain.
In the April suspension, a pileup of cattle in and around the knock box led to the injury of two cows, and the possible overuse of an electric prod to keep the animals in line, USDA records indicate.
On Oct. 10, the USDA issued another suspension notice after an ineffective stun did not knock an animal senseless. A similar stunning incident occurred both the next day and in early December, leading to two more suspension notices.
The ineffective stuns caused animals to suffer significant pain for minutes, according to Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization. The group has asked the USDA to permanently withdraw federal meat inspectors from Triple J, given the plant’s multiple violations.
“They [the USDA] are not taking this egregious abuse of animals all that seriously,” said Bruce Friedrich, Farm Sanctuary’s senior policy director. The USDA didn’t return a phone call Thursday. Farm Sanctuary has also asked the U.S. attorney’s office to pursue criminal prosecution. The U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Minnesota declined to comment.