Undercover video recorded by an animal rights activist at one of the largest U.S. pork producers appears to show pigs being beaten and dragged across the slaughterhouse floor as workers cheer and throw blood-soaked towels at one another.
An edited version of the video, posted to YouTube on Wednesday, shows pigs covered in feces and riddled with puss-filled sores headed for the production line. It also shows numerous pigs that appear to be conscious and shaking in pain as they are being slaughtered. Federal law requires livestock to be stunned before they are killed.
"That one was definitely alive," one male employee, whose face is intentionally blurred in the video, shouts as pig carcasses move down a conveyor belt. "If USDA is around, they could shut us down," a man who appears to be the same employee says later, referring to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates meat processors.
The video was taken inside Quality Pork Processors, in Austin, Minnesota by an investigator for animal rights nonprofit Compassion Over Killing some time this year. QPP supplies more than half of the "fresh pork raw material needs" for Hormel, the maker of Spam and other processed meat products, according to QPP's website.
The animal rights group has given "many hours" of raw video to the USDA and local authorities, and has met with federal investigators to assist in the investigation, Erica Meier, executive director of Compassion Over Killing, told HuffPost.
"The actions depicted in the video under review are completely unacceptable, and if we can verify the video’s authenticity, we will aggressively investigate the case and take appropriate action," USDA spokesman Adam Tarr said.
Tarr said federal inspectors were on duty at the plant, but the video was likely taken out of their view. "Had these actions been observed by the inspectors, they would have resulted in immediate regulatory action against the plant," Tarr added.
Nate Jansen, QPP's vice president of human resources and quality services, told HuffPost that the company's own video monitoring system had already been "flagged" for something appearing on the Compassion Over Killing footage, and an employee was disciplined for an unspecified violation of company policy. A second employee also was disciplined with a written warning and order to undergo retraining, according to The Associated Press.
"We had already taken disciplinary action" before being made aware of the animal rights group's video, Jansen said.
Jansen, said the edited version of the Compassion Over Killing video posted to YouTube fails to tell the whole story. The company has "hundreds of people" and "multiple interventions" to stop contamination from entering the food supply, he said.
"If you look at them as a full sequence, with the handling, you will see those animals were handled according to acceptable regulations and policies and our own internal procedures," Jansen said. "I've got complete trust in the foods that we produce."
Compassion Over Killing's Meier rejected the criticism that video editing distorted the YouTube version.
"Our video speaks for itself," Meier said. "We documented excessive beating, shocking, improper stunning, and dragging of animals."
Meier said the group's investigator applied for a job at QPP and worked there for several months. The investigator only worked with live animals during the last three weeks of employment, Meier said.
QPP is one of five pork processors that participate in a federal pilot program called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Models Project, or HIMP. Launched by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service in the 1990s, HIMP is designed to produce a "flexible, more efficient, fully integrated" meat and poultry inspection system that allows a plant like QPP's to take more responsibility for carcass inspection, which used to be overseen by government employees.
The idea is to allow USDA inspectors to focus more on food safety and other consumer protections, according to the Food Safety and Information Service. USDA says the process is effective.
But animal rights groups, including Compassion Over Killing, say the program reduces government oversight and allows for high-speed slaughter, which the group says kills about 1,300 pigs per hour.
"That means this facility operates at faster line speeds than almost any other facility in the U.S.," Compassion Over Killing said in a statement describing the video. "The excessive slaughter line speed forces workers to take inhumane shortcuts that lead to extreme suffering for millions of pigs. It also jeopardizes food safety for consumers."
According to the federal Humane Slaughter Act, livestock must be completely sedated and "rendered insensible to pain" before slaughter.