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Alleged inhumane act shuts down JBS Swift kill floor

WORTHINGTON -- Hundreds of squealing hogs sat in trailers in the blazing heat Wednesday while truckers wondered when the kill floor at JBS Swift and Co. would re-open.

With little information from the plant, the truckers who waited with their loads were angry and disgusted.

"I've been sitting here since 8:30 this morning," said Eric Sorenson of Sleepy Eye. "The person who shut them down is creating more of a problem than they are trying to solve."

From what truckers were told, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down Swift's kill floor late Tuesday night because of an alleged inhumane kill.

"Supposedly a hog went through the kill line and didn't die," said one trucker, who preferred to remain anonymous. "They shot it three times, and the USDA inspector said it was inhumane and shut them down. That is what a Swift employee told me."

A representative from the USDA confirmed Wednesday afternoon that Swift was shut down for about 14 hours.

"We did suspend our inspection services at the plant because of a humane handling violation," the rep stated. "At 2:40 p.m. local time (Wednesday), we reinstated our inspection services there."

What made truckers angriest was the hundreds of hogs suffering in the heat.

"This is more inhumane than whatever happened last night," Sorenson stated, as others around him nodded in agreement.

"One hog treated inhumanely and a thousand suffer," added Jason, who declined to give his last name.

Several Swift employees drove around with a water tank, using a hose to spray water on the hogs in an effort to keep them cool, but it wasn't much of a match for the 90-degree heat. The slight breeze had died down around 11 a.m., and some truckers resorted to driving their trucks around the lot behind Ron's Repair and the truck stop, just so the hogs would have some air movement.

"It costs so much per mile," said Bubba Ridings, who loaded south of Mitchell, S.D. at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. "But I don't want to have to pull 183 dead hogs off my truck. I have to do what is best for what is in my trailer."

Many of the truck drivers were frustrated they weren't told about the shut down ahead of time.

"This happened last night, but nobody called us to stop the load," said Gene, a trucker who picked up his load in New Ulm Wednesday morning. "This is the fourth time this has happened here since that cow thing in California."

Gene, who asked that his last name not be used, said he arrived at the plant and was given a number, then told to find a place in the wind to park his truck.

Jason said his producer was on the phone trying to find somewhere else to bring his load.

"I heard some people are calling the USDA and senators," he stated.

The men understand the need for the USDA inspection, but agree there must be a better way to handle the situation.

"They could run these hogs through, then shut down and fight out their problems," suggested Bob Anema of Sanborn, Iowa. "The laws have become stricter, which is not all bad, but they overdo it. Common sense is completely thrown out."

Anema, unlike most of the other truck drivers, was parked at Swift instead of across the road. He was second in line and hoping he would still be able to unload.

Anema was unable to gain much information from inside Swift's office on how long his wait would be, but he doesn't blame Swift.

"Their hands are tied," he claimed. "It is the USDA that holds the strings."

While he waited, the barns at Swift were already full, holding about 7,000 hogs, he believed.

"But they are in a barn with water and air," he noted.

In the lot across the street, Ridings pointed out his truck with a double deck trailer. He said the hogs on the top layer were beneath the roof of the trailer, which heats up in the sun. The heat from the bottom layer rises, and when the hogs are sprayed down, they experience some relief. But eventually, the trailer turns into a sauna.

"They climb over each other, trying to get to air, then compact together and suffocate each other," Ridings said.

Swift officials declined Wednesday to comment on the situation.

The USDA rep said inspection services at Swift were suspended in April, but the company was able to provide a corrective plan and the suspension was held.

"There was a problem in May, then they were allowed to operate again," the rep stated. "Today, we reinstated the suspension. Each time, the problem was corrected."

The problem, she added, was not necessarily the same one each time.

According to the Swift and Co. humane handling policy, dated March 2, 2004, its program for humane handling was designed and is continually evaluated by a specialist from the Colorado State University, who works with Swift to upgrade facilities and employee training programs that exceed federal requirements.

The policy states Swift has a zero-tolerance policy for sensitive animals beyond the stunning box.

"Proper and humane treatment of animals is a standard operating procedure at Swift and Company, not just because it makes sense economically, but because it is the right thing to do," the policy states. "As a company, we know we are obligated to treat our animals humanely. We fulfill that obligation through rigorous training and oversight, and are pleased to provide wholesome meat products that have been produced under these strict guidelines."