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Destroyed hog plant had slaughter violations: PETA seeks federal prosecution

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BAILEY — A meatpacking plant destroyed in a fire late last month received two federal suspensions this year and had drawn the ire of an international animal rights group.

Custom Quality Packers’ slaughterhouse on Friday Road in rural Nash County between Bailey and Sims was badly damaged in a July 22 fire.

Nash County Deputy Fire Marshal Chris Jenkins said Monday he’s classified the fire as accidental, but he still wanted to speak with the facility’s insurance company before talking further about the case.

U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors recorded at least four incidents at the plant in the last three years in which botched stunning attempts left severely injured pigs squealing in pain. Two of those occurred in 2020. 

Four major incidents in three years is significant, said Colin Henstock, assistant manager of investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

According to reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, work at the facility had been stopped twice this year.

On May 19, a worker used an electronic stunner on a pig, but the pig remained awake, so the worker had to shoot the pig in the head with a .25-caliber pistol.

On Feb. 19, a worker shot a pig. A federal health inspector told the worker, who had moved to the next pig, that the first animal remained conscious. The pig began crying out and the worker shot the pig again.

Records from 2018 reveal that workers cut the throat of a hoisted pig, causing it to wake up, kick and squeal. The workers lowered the pig and it tried to walk away, still bleeding from its throat. The workers shot the pig in the head.

In another incident that year, a malfunctioning electronic stunner allowed a pig to regain consciousness. A worker shot the pig, but it stood up while bleeding from the head. The worker shot the pig again.

Requests for comment left with employees at the plant’s office on Friday weren’t returned in time for this story. 

Custom Quality Packers is a limited-liability company formed in 2012 with Thomas Piggott listed as its registered agent, according to N.C. Department of the Secretary of State records.

The company specializes in providing whole hogs and roasted pigs to restaurants, meat markets and specialty stores up and down the East Coast, according to its website.

The 1978 Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires animals to be rendered insensible to pain by a single blow or other means that is rapid and effective before being shackled, hoisted or cut. The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 classifies improper slaughter of an animal as a misdemeanor with penalties including imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000.

“They should be able to render pigs unconscious, but they don’t seem able to do it right,” Henstock said of Custom Quality Packers employees. 

Henstock sent a letter to Robert Higdon, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, in mid-June asking for a review of the violations. PETA wants criminal charges filed against the facility and the workers responsible.

“Inspectors can refer cases for prosecution, but haven’t done so since 2007,” Henstock said. “I’m hoping the U.S. attorney is actually looking into it. It’s such an egregious violation.”

Disturbing eyewitness reports show pigs endured prolonged, agonizing deaths at Custom Quality Packers, said PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch.

“PETA is calling for a federal investigation on behalf of the pigs who suffered at this facility and is urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan to help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses,” Nachminovitch said.

PETA — whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to eat” — opposes speciesism, which the organization describes as a human-supremacist worldview. The group notes that pigs, sheep, bulls, cows, rabbits, chickens and other animals feel pain and fear and value their lives, just as humans do, and that the only way to help prevent them from suffering in slaughterhouses is to not eat them. 

No employees were injured in the July 22 fire. Firefighters from 11 departments in three counties battled the blaze for nearly five hours. One firefighter suffering from heat exhaustion was taken to a nearby hospital.

One hundred pigs let out of the building during the fire were taken to other packhouses and slaughtered that day or soon thereafter.