SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A Sioux Falls meatpacking plant was shut down briefly when a federal inspector saw a truck driver beating the hogs that he was delivering to slaughter, the U.S. Agriculture Department reported.
The John Morrell & Co. plant stopped its operations for about six hours because of the temporary suspension of meat inspections on Sept. 8. Uninspected meat cannot be sold.
Mark Reichelt, president of a union chapter that represents more than 2,500 of the factory's workers, said none of the employees were sent home during the lull.
"They just sat and waited in the cafeteria, locker rooms, wherever," Reichelt told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. He described the delay as "a lot longer than normal."
"The government has shut the lines down before, but never for this long," Reichelt said.
The inspection stoppage happened when a U.S. Agriculture Department inspector saw a truck driver beating the hogs he was delivering to the plant, in apparent violation of federal rules on the humane handling of livestock.
The hogs stopped as they approached the truck ramp, and the driver used a paddle to beat them in an attempt to get them to move, according to a letter to Morrell from Phyllis Adams, the Minneapolis district manager for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The hogs were struck 15 to 20 times, with "an overhead chopping action with as much force as the operator could muster," the letter said.
The company said it resolved the problem as soon as it could. The hogs that were allegedly mistreated were eventually slaughtered.
Inspection suspensions are rare. Richard McIntire, a USDA spokesman, said the agency has suspended inspections 48 times this year. It inspects about 800 packing plants.
A suspension "definitely creates an issue in the flow and movement of hogs from the producer to the consumer," said Glenn Muller, executive director of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council.
The Argus Leader said Morrell has been warned or cited for inhumane treatment four times in the past 10 years. The plant processes more than 17,000 hogs each day.