Animal rights group Compassion Over Killing (COK) released an undercover video last week, alleging abuse and improper slaughter protocol at Quality Pork Processors (QPP), a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse in Minnesota that exclusively supplies Hormel. The video also specifically targeted a USDA pilot program, known as HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Inspection Models Project), that allows for high-speed slaughter and reduced government oversight. The facility is only one of five in the U.S. operating under the program.
Hormel Foods said in a statement that the company has reviewed the edited three-minute video and is working closely with QPP, as well as USDA, regarding its concerns over the alleged abuse. The company also said it will work with them to take any necessary corrective action.
“Hormel Foods is committed to animal care and has high standards and policies with our suppliers. We have a zero tolerance policy for the inhumane treatment of animals, and we remain dedicated to the highest standards for animal care and handling,” the company said, adding that it requires suppliers to adhere to its Supplier Responsibility Principles.
The company said routine audits are conducted at all facilities and that third-party auditors are hired to ensure the highest animal care procedures are followed.
“Food safety is the No. 1 priority at Hormel Foods,” the company said. “USDA and company inspectors are on-site to inspect all animals entering the facility and throughout the entire process, to ensure that sick or diseased animals do not enter the food chain.”
Hormel explained its suppliers operate under very visible conditions, including third-party video monitoring and the USDA is present during all operations.
Quality Pork Processors said it instituted “significant corrective measures” in response to the undercover video and the mandated measures outlined by Hormel Foods.
“We have reviewed the video and are very disappointed by the actions of some employees. The actions of these few employees don’t represent the collective culture of animal care that our employees exhibit each and every day at QPP,” stated Kelly Wadding, president of QPP. “As such, we have taken swift and immediate action to reinforce our high standards and operating procedures in the animal care and welfare areas. We want to assure Hormel Foods and all of its customers that we care about animal welfare, and are committed to taking steps that will bring about positive changes for the industry as a whole.”
Additionally, Wadding said the company’s Animal Welfare Council is looking at ways to exceed industry standards related to animal welfare and handling.
QPP is taking further disciplinary action against employees who exhibited aggressive or inappropriate behavior and will be retraining of all employees on proper animal handling and employee conduct.
The company said that in addition to the existing 24/7 video monitoring and surveillance, it will be increasing the review frequency by a third party company. It will also increase third party audits, including additional surprise audits.
Humane Handling Officers will be placed to observe all animal handling in the operation, the company said, and a confidential hotline will be established for employees to report any actions that do not meet our standards for animal care and welfare.
The company added that it is evaluating and implementing further improvements in animal handling equipment and will issue a public report on its progress and additional actions in the next 30 days.
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) conducted a review in consultation with leading outside experts including Dr. Temple Grandin and concluded that the animals in the video appeared properly stunned and insensible to pain, as required by federal law.
“Reviewing edited videos provided by animal rights groups is always challenging because we must rely on short clips edited together with scripted narration that is designed to convey a particular point of view,” said Janet Riley, NAMI senior vice president of public affairs and animal welfare committee liaison, adding that what is omitted may be as important as what is included, like any actions that a plant took to correct a problem.
“We saw no breathing, natural blinking or a righting reflex that would suggest anything other than an insensible animal,” explained Riley. “While the video’s creator highlighted one pig on a rail and said it was showing a ‘righting reflex,’ the video was distant and blurry and the pig’s neck was obscured by a beam or piece of equipment so it would seem impossible for anyone to make a definitive determination based upon the clip provided.”
Riley added that animals can show uncoordinated movement after stunning, but that does not mean the animal is alert and aware.
“As the company acknowledged, the undercover video showed some unacceptable rough handling in the aggressive use of the rattle paddle to drive animals and some overcrowding. It should be reassuring to note that the company identified the inappropriate use of the paddle through its own in-house video monitoring system weeks before it was aware of the COK video and took the appropriate steps to discipline and retrain the employee long before this video became public,” Riley noted.
Although the rough handling was unacceptable, the most critical aspect of the slaughter process – proper stunning – appeared to be working well, she added.
“It is disingenuous to suggest that the HIMP inspection system in any way contributed to this occurrence,” she said. “In addition, USDA officials identified no issues during the time period when this undercover video was shot and the company worked closely with USDA last week when the agency conducted an intensive in-plant review of the company's robust animal welfare programs.”