AUSTIN, Minn. (CN) – An animal rights group that captured video of conscious pigs being dragged, beaten and abused with electric prods sued the slaughterhouse it says is an exclusive Hormel supplier, claiming workers knowingly violated anti-cruelty statutes.
Compassion Over Killing Inc. filed a lawsuit against Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Mower County District Court on Saturday for alleged violations of Minnesota’s Anti-Cruelty Law.
Beginning in May 2015, Quality Pork Processors employed COK's undercover investigator, who witnessed and documented pigs being abused by QPP employees, the complaint states.
Over nearly six months, COK claims its investigator saw countless instances of "conscious pigs being dragged, improperly stunned (i.e. ineffectively stunned and double stunned), abused with electric prods, maliciously beaten, pushed, kicked and otherwise severely mistreated." (Parentheses in original.)
"The investigator also documented many instances of abusive conduct towards pigs in livestock area, including many flagrant violations of Minnesota's cruelty statue," the lawsuit states. "Even non-ambulatory animals (known as 'downers') were driven by excessive force, such as by use of electric pods or forceful contact, despite the workers knowing and having available to them more humane methods.” (Parentheses in original.)
According to the complaint, one QPP supervisor acknowledged that workers are supposed to use "sleds" to move disabled animals, but claimed they "don't have time for that."
Another QPP worker admitted to purposefully ineffectively stunning and "sticking" hogs, “in callous and sadistic disregard of the pigs’ extreme suffering,” according to the complaint.
"This worker bragged how he intentionally botches his stunning of animals 'just to see if the guy [at the sticking table] is a pussy or not. [Another worker] always bitches and has them shot. I just stick them,’” the complaint states. “When explaining that animals who are not stunned properly require re-stunning at the 'sticking table' prior to slaughter, this worker went on to say, 'Most of the time, I just stick it.'"
In November 2015, COK released a video allegedly showing QPP employees inflicting cruelty on pigs in violation of state law and food safety regulations.
When the video was initially released, the Washington Post reported that the COK investigator tried to find a job with meat processing companies for five months and was eventually hired at QPP. According to the Post, COK requested the person's name not be disclosed because he still worked at QPP.
COK says it will now make the investigator available for examination under oath in court, but asks that their name be sealed.
The animal rights group turned over the full 97-minute unedited version of its video to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In a written statement to the group, the USDA advised that its investigation corroborated with COK's findings of animal abuse, stating,
"The Agency concluded that evidence collected illustrated that the establishment was not in compliance with the regulations under 9 CFR Part 313" and "would have resulted in immediate regulatory action against the plant" had they "been observed by FSIS inspectors,” according to the complaint.
However, COK says the USDA chose not to take any meaningful enforcement action.
Even though its investigation is not currently ongoing, COK says there is no reason to believe that any of the practices at issue have been addressed or are no longer occurring.
The group wants the court to issue a warrant and order an appropriate investigation into the alleged abuses.
Cheryl Leahy, general counsel for COK, said the group filed the lawsuit "because we believe our investigation of QPP clearly shows egregious and unacceptable animal cruelty, which is a violation of Minnesota state law."
"To our knowledge, local authorities have taken no action against QPP, or even conducted an investigation based on our evidence. We hope this filing is the first step toward changing that," she said.
QPP, located in Austin, Minn., employees more than 1,300 workers and processes 19,000 pigs per day. According to the complaint, it is an exclusive supplier to Hormel Foods Corporation.
QPP did not immediately respond Tuesday to a voicemail seeking comment.
Hormel, which is not a party to the lawsuit, did not respond to a request for comment late Monday.
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