USDA suspends Portage County slaughterhouse over pig's treatment. PETA wants criminal charges.
Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of an animal's treatment that some readers may find disturbing. The Stevens Point Journal included details that help to provide the context of the allegations.
STEVENS POINT - The federal government suspended a slaughterhouse along Portage County J for a brief period in October after a federal inspector reported witnessing the inhumane shocking and killing of a pig.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the suspension to the Julius Falkavage, LLC/People's Meat Market on 6811 Burr Oak Road from Oct. 24 to 28.
An inspector with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Services reported that employees butchered a pig that was still conscious despite numerous attempts to stun the animal, according to the agency's notice of suspension.
The suspension was lifted on Oct. 28 after the business's owner, Lee Falkavage, submitted a correction plan to the federal government. Falkavage said in an interview the plan included voltage testing of stun equipment before use because the incident stemmed from a shock stick that failed after a nut came loose.
According to the inspector's report:
- The inspector saw an employee apply the shock stick to the head of the pig and saw that it remained conscious. The animal remained standing between the sorting board and the side of the slaughter chute.
- The pig tried to remain upright on the sloped floor by kicking its hind legs in a bicycle motion and let out a low bellowing sound.
- An employee applied the stun stick to the pig's head again with no effect. The worker tried stunning a third time with no effect.
- A different employee then lassoed and hoisted the pig by its hind leg. The inspector wrote that the animal remained conscious. The pig blinked several times, tracked movement with its eyes, breathed in a "rhythmic manner" and continued to let out noises.
- The employees did not have a backup stun wand. They then stuck the pig while it was hoisted so it would bleed out.
- The inspector said the animal eventually lost consciousness because of the blood loss.
However, Falkavage said his five employees working in the slaughterhouse deny that the pig was conscious when they killed it.
Falkavage said his employees were going down the line of pigs slated for butchering. They'd shock the pig in the head and string it up to let the blood drain out and move on.
He said his employees told him that they shocked one pig and it went down properly and then when they went to the next, the shocker stopped working. He said the federal inspector went back and assumed the previous pig had been improperly stunned and butchered.
He said the movement the inspector witnessed was due to the residual electricity flowing through the pig and that his workers said the animal was not emitting any sounds.
Falkavage said the inspector blew the incident out of proportion. Falkavage was not on-site the day of the incident, he said.
"We did an investigation and the pig — it was actually dead," Falkavage said. "All the employees said one thing and (the inspector is) saying something different ... What do you want us to do? We’re following the guidelines and (the inspector is) having a crying jag."
Todd Gerwig, deputy district manager for the Des Moines, Iowa, district of the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA, said all federally inspected slaughterhouses have USDA inspectors on-site to observe butchering operations before an animal is killed and after it's killed.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an activist group that opposes killing animals for sport or food, asked the Portage County District Attorney's Office to investigate the slaughterhouse and its employees for animal cruelty based on the inspector's report.
"This disturbing report shows that this pig experienced a prolonged, agonizing death at Julius Falkavage," PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said in email statement.
Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske said in an interview he will defer to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the USDA and ask them to review what is considered the proper butchering of an animal before making a decision on whether to pursue the issue further.
He said he's not sure PETA's request for charges under the state's animal cruelty law is appropriate because he's not certain it applies to animals in slaughterhouses like it would if someone abused a household pet.
"This is a specialized area of the law because the intent of that animal in that area is to be butchered for food consumption," Molepske said.
Contact reporter Alan Hovorka at 715-345-2252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ajhovorka.