Botched pig slaughter draws ire of animal rights group

  • Kulana Foods is located off Kawailani Street in Hilo. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — An animal rights group wrote a letter to the Hawaii County prosecuting attorney Thursday seeking criminal charges against a Hilo meat shop that improperly slaughtered a pig.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the office of Mitch Roth requesting an investigation of Kulana Foods Ltd. following an incident that led to the U. S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to suspend the business’ butchery operations in November.

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According to a USDA report, on Nov. 15 a Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector witnessed a failed slaughter attempt of a pig that led to the pig visibly suffering.

The inspector reportedly observed a Kulana employee attempt to stun a pig using an electrical stunning device, but the device failed, evidently causing pain to the pig, which reportedly squealed, but not rendering it unconscious.

“The operator then made three additional ineffective stunning attempts with the electrical stunning device,” the USDA report said. “During all stunning attempts, the sow stood with muscles rigid and tense indicating that an electrical stun had been applied. However, following each stunning attempt, the sow was immediately alert, standing, and was looking around.”

The report added that the fourth electrical stunning attempt caused the pig to fall to its side while still conscious, looking around and breathing heavily.

“Electroshocking a pig four times is cruel and not approved in the slaughter industry,” said PETA investigations specialist Colin Henstock. “The animal suffers tremendous physical pain and psychological terror.”

After the inspector advised the employee that the pig needed to be rendered unconscious immediately, the employee retrieved a handheld bolt gun from the cattle stunning area and, after several minutes, delivered the fifth stunning attempt to the pig, which was successful.

“These disturbing revelations show that this pig endured a prolonged, agonizing death at Kulana Foods,” said PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch in a statement. “PETA is calling for a criminal investigation on behalf of the pig who suffered at this facility and the members of the public who care about her.”

After observing the violation, the Food Safety and Inspection Service suspended inspections at Kulana Foods. Without an assigned inspector, the business was unable to legally apply marks of inspection to its products, thus forcing it to effectively halt all butchery operations.

Kulana Foods was ordered to submit a written report of the incident and its cause to the USDA, as well as the corrective actions it would take to prevent a re-occurrence of the incident, documentation of device maintenance procedures and training materials, in order to have inspections reinstated.

Kulana Foods apparently complied, and the USDA held the suspension in abeyance on Nov. 28.

Autumn Canaday, public affairs specialist for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, confirmed that Kulana Foods is permitted to continue butchery operations at this time.

According to the Nov. 28 abeyance report, the USDA will continue to monitor Kulana Foods’ practices during the abeyance period to ensure the business conforms to department standards.

The abeyance of suspension is a separate matter from the possibility of criminal conduct, Henstock said. PETA routinely monitors for cases of USDA humane handling enforcement actions and investigates whether the incidents violate state law.

While Henstock admitted most such investigations do not lead to criminal charges, the letter to Roth reported that the Kulana Foods incident violates Hawaii state law. A section in Hawaii Revised Statues defines cruelty to animals in the second degree as “overdriving, overloading, torturing, tormenting, beating, causing substantial bodily injury to, or starving any animal.”

The law lists a number of exceptions to the definition of second-degree animal cruelty; however, none of them apply to slaughtered animals. Anyone convicted of second-degree animal cruelty is guilty of a misdemeanor, except if the offense involves 10 or more pet animals, in which case the offense is a Class C felony.

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Representatives of Kulana Foods declined to comment. Roth did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.