USDA probes animal abuse video at Hormel pork supplier QPP

By Danny Na

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Agriculture Department is reviewing the authenticity of a video that allegedly shows animals being beaten and feces-covered pigs at a hog slaughterhouse that supplies SPAM-maker Hormel Foods, and plans to investigate if the video proves to be real, the agency said on Wednesday.

The 3:41-minute video was released on Wednesday by animal activist group Compassion Over Killing. The group says the video shows workers at a Quality Pork Processors (QPP) plant in Minnesota beating, dragging and slitting the throats of live animals that writhe in apparent pain.

Federal law requires livestock be stunned unconscious before killing.

The QPP slaughterhouse is one of five in a pilot project run by the USDA allowing plants to run at increased speeds but with reduced government oversight.

The plant processes 19,000 hogs a day, according to the company's website. It exclusively supplies Hormel, one of the nation's leading producers of processed meat and pork products, whose other brands include Applegate natural and organic meats and Farmer John meats.

Privately held QPP and Hormel could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday. Both QPP and Hormel are based in Austin, Minnesota.

The Agriculture Department's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to "aggressively investigate the case and take appropriate action" if the film's authenticity is verified, it said in a statement. "The actions depicted in the video under review are completely unacceptable," it added.

In one scene of the video, pigs covered in feces or pus-filled abscesses are sent down the plant's conveyor belt.

Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, told Reuters the video was filmed by a contractor, who took a job at the plant a few months ago. The group gave an unedited version to the USDA in late October, she said.

The FSIS said the actions in the video may have taken place out of view of federal inspectors, who were on duty at other locations at the plant.

Had such actions been seen by inspectors, the agency said, they would have resulted in immediate regulatory action against the plant.

Animal rights groups have launched numerous undercover investigations of farms and processing plants. An exposé in August by Mercy For Animals of a Tennessee farm where workers were stabbing, clubbing and stomping on chickens led McDonald's Corp and Tyson Foods to sever ties with the farm.

Meier said the USDA's pilot program - known as HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) - took inspectors away from the area being filmed. "The fact that there aren't USDA inspectors there prevents them from taking immediate action," she said.

The meat industry has fought for laws to prohibit unauthorized filming in private facilities, saying it might provide misleading footage.

(Reporting by Danny Na; Editing by Leslie Adler)