An undercover video shot at Hormel Foods Corp.’s Austin pork supplier, Quality Pork Processors, shows treatment of pigs that is “completely unacceptable,” according to federal meat inspectors.
The video was shot this year by the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. It shows scenes from the killing floor at Quality Pork, which is next to Hormel’s sprawling plant in Austin, wellspring of Spam and myriad other products.
The group turned the video over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is reviewing it.
“The actions depicted in the video under review are completely unacceptable, and if we can verify the video’s authenticity, we will aggressively investigate the case and take appropriate action,” the USDA said in a news statement.
Although USDA inspectors would have been at the plant, the actions depicted in the video occurred in a part of the plant that would likely have been out of their view, the agency said. “Had these actions been observed by the inspectors, they would have resulted in immediate regulatory action against the plant.”
All U.S. meat plants, in order to get a federal seal of inspection, have USDA staff on site.
Quality Pork Processors is based in Dallas but supplies pork only to Hormel’s Austin plant. “We have strict policies around the humane treatment of animals — it’s a priority,” said Nate Jansen, human resources vice president for Quality Pork in Austin.
Jansen said that two workers depicted in the video departed from the company’s procedures. One employee cut an abscess from a pig and possibly contaminated meat from the animal. That task should done at another point in the production line where contamination won’t occur, Jansen said. The worker’s action was spotted by a supervisor before Quality Pork saw the animal rights video, he said. The worker was given a verbal warning.
Another worker in the video was given a written warning and retraining after aggressively paddling a pig to get the animal into line, Jansen said. That infraction was spotted by a 24-hour company video monitor, also before Quality Pork executives saw it on the Compassion Over Killing video, he said.
Hormel said in a statement that the paddle use didn’t follow its own animal handling standards, either. “We have a zero-tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals,” the company said in a statement. After reviewing the video, Hormel said it is working closely with Quality Pork and the USDA to take “any necessary corrective action.”
Hormel, one of the nation’s most prominent pork producers, declined to make an executive available for an interview.
The video is graphic, showing the kill process in detail. Animals are supposed to be stunned and rendered unconscious before being killed. Some animals in the video were moving after that process, said Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing. She said that indicates inadequate stunning.
But Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University, said involuntary, reflexive movements can occur in animals immediately after the kill process.
Quality Pork’s stun-and-kill process seemed normal for the industry, said Grandin, a well-known animal welfare expert who has worked with the livestock industry.
But the company’s handling of pigs — including the paddling and overcrowding in the kill line — “was definitely not acceptable,” Grandin said after viewing the video. “If I would have done an audit, they would have failed.”
Meier said the video shows the failings of a “HIMP,” a pilot safety program under USDA auspices at five pork plants, including the Quality slaughterhouse in Austin. With HIMP, the USDA has attempted to improve safety, cut costs and also allow faster line speeds.
Hogs “are being processed so quickly that errors are being made,” Meier said. HIMP “causes workers to take inhumane shortcuts.”
The USDA rejected that claim. All federally inspected slaughterhouses — whether using HIMP or a more traditional model — must follow the same humane animal handling laws, the agency said in a statement. HIMP and non-HIMP inspection differs in carcass sorting, which is not the part of the process the Compassion Over Killing video shows, the USDA said.