July 11, 2013 10:29:05 AM
JACKSON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it sent employees to a north Mississippi slaughterhouse Wednesday to check a complaint that pigs were abused before being killed.
Richard McIntire, spokesman for the USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service, told The Clarion-Ledger that the service's veterinary specialists and office staff went to Southern Quality Meats, in Pontotoc, "to begin review of the situation recorded on the video, gather more information from company officials and determine next steps."
An animal-rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, released a two-minute video that allegedly shows a worker at the plant repeatedly stunning pigs with an electric wand and apparently causing them to suffer. A federal law, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, says animals must be quickly and painlessly stunned before slaughter.
Southern Quality Meats did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday. PETA said the company president denied the incidents happened at the plant.
Dan Paden, PETA's senior research associate, said PETA contacted the company after receiving the video from a whistleblower who secretly recorded it on April 2.
The federal law is enforced by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, which recommends one, 3-second shock to the head or heart area to "induce instantaneous unconsciousness." The video shows some of the pigs being repeatedly shocked in different areas of the body while they jostle and squeal in a small pen.
PETA also sent a letter to Mississippi interim State Superintendent of Education Lynn House asking her to reconsider its business dealings with the company.
Since 2006, the Mississippi Department of Education has purchased more than $7.8 million in sausage from Southern Quality Meats, according to bid records online.
Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle confirmed receipt of the letter and said the department follows all state and federal guidelines in awarding its food contracts. She didn't say whether anyone in the department watched the video or if any action would be taken.
H.I.G. Capital, which acquired Southern Quality Meats in 2010, says on its website that the company "serves a stable and diversified base of long-standing customers across the foodservice, retail, and state school channels. Its facility is strategically located among suppliers and customers and has an outstanding food safety record."