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Prestage in trouble with USDA

- file photo A worker at Prestage Foods of Iowa removes part of the pig for processing in early 2020.

EAGLE GROVE – Prestage Foods of Iowa has recently been in some hot water with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service following an incident on July 28 at the pork processing facility in which a pig was not properly slaughtered.

According to a notice of suspension the USDA/FSIS Des Moines district office sent to John Prestage, owner of Prestage Foods, a FSIS inspector noticed a market hog kicking while on the bleed chain after it had passed through the carbon dioxide stunner without being stunned.

“The hog was rhythmically breathing and was moving all four legs randomly but with controlled kicking and swimming movements,” the letter described.

As the still-conscious hog approached the polisher, which scrapes the hair off of the pig’s body, the inspector “repeatedly called and motioned” for an employee to stop the line and get a captive bolt gun to stun the pig. The employee did not respond to the request, so the inspector stopped the line and requested that the hog be “properly stunned.”

“Some time passed and when no one arrived to stun the hog (the inspector) headed towards the barn,” the letter said. The inspector located someone to stun the hog, but when it was properly stunned, it had already gone through the polisher.

The FSIS inspector contacted the Des Moines district office, which then suspended the assignment of inspectors for Prestage’s slaughter operations.

By law, animal slaughtering facilities cannot operate without the presence of an FSIS inspector at all times, so the suspension handed down by FSIS rendered the Prestage Foods of Iowa facility inoperable.

According to a second letter from the USDA/FSIS, Prestage Foods responded to the first letter with a written corrective action and preventative measures in response to the regulatory noncompliance that was detailed in the notice of suspension. Because of this, the USDA/FSIS replied with a notice of suspension held in abeyance, essentially putting a suspension on the suspension.

It is not clear how long operations at the facility were suspended during this time.

The minimum length of abeyance period from USDA/FSIS is 90 days, in which Prestage Foods is essentially in a probationary period with increased oversight while the FSIS verifies that the corrective action and preventive measures are effectively implemented. If found to not be in compliance, the USDA/FSIS can activate the suspension again.

It appears that Prestage Foods submitted its corrective and preventive measures immediately following the notice of suspension on July 29, as the abeyance of the suspension was written on that same date.

The incident also caught the attention of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals this past week. On Monday, PETA Assistant Manager of Investigations Colin Henstock sent a letter to Wright County Attorney Eric Simonson, calling on Simonson to investigate and “file suitable criminal charges” against Prestage Foods and the workers involved, saying that the incident violated Iowa livestock neglect laws.

The Iowa Code prohibits “a person who impounds or confines livestock, in any place” and “injures or destroys livestock by any means which causes pain or suffering in a manner inconsistent with customary animal husbandry practices.”

“This disturbing report shows that this animal experienced a prolonged, agonizing death at Prestage Foods of Iowa,” said PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA is calling for a criminal investigation on behalf of the pig who suffered at this facility and urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan and help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses.”

Simonson confirmed on Wednesday that his office had received the letter from PETA and was “in the process of reviewing the materials and determining if the alleged incident requires further investigation.”

An email sent to Prestage communications staff was not returned on Thursday.

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