Animal rights group PETA has made a complaint about a Fulton business.
In a press release emailed on Thursday, PETA spokesperson David Perle said the group contacted Callaway County Prosecutor Christopher Wilson, alleging animal abuse at Central Missouri Meat and Sausage.
Cory Hawkins, co-owner of Central Missouri Meat and Sausage, emphatically disputed the claim.
"The writer of this report has altered the facts to promote their cause of turning the world vegan," Hawkins said.
PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — is headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia.
Melissa Mary Wilson, an attorney with PETA, said the claim is based on a document from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Field Operations in Springdale, Arkansas. According to the document, headed "Notice of suspension," a USDA official present at the business on July 3 observed a failed attempt to stun a hog at Central Missouri Meat.
"The initial stun attempt made with a hand pistol proved ineffective, with the hog vocalizing and looking around with the head up and struggling up on its knees," the unnamed federal official reported in the document. "The immediate second stun, made with the same pistol, was ineffective. The third stun proved to be effective."
The notice, issued that day, suspended the assignment of inspection personnel at the facility and instructed Central Missouri Meats to provide "adequate written corrective and preventative measures to assure that all livestock will be handled in a humane manner during slaughter."
Because places like CMMS must have an inspector on site to operate, a suspension of inspection personnel is essentially a suspension of operations.
In the document, the USDA official said the establishment failed to comply with the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1978 and the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
A PETA spokesperson claimed the incident "may violate Missouri's abuse statute."
Wilson sent the document to the Callaway prosecutor, along with a letter.
"I would like to request that your office (and the proper local law enforcement agency, as you deem appropriate) investigate and file suitable criminal charges against Central Missouri Meat & Sausage and its worker responsible for failing to stun a pig on the first attempt on July 3, 2017," she said in the letter.
Wilson could not be reached comment.
Hawkins said PETA's focus on the USDA document is disproportionate.
"We continued slaughtering that same day," Hawkins said.
USDA officials were unavailable to confirm when the suspension was lifted, but a spokesperson said they would send a statement today.
Hawkins said brief suspensions are very common.
"We have to document that there was a failure on their system," Hawkins said. "If our stunning system doesn't work, we'd have to do a corrective action on it."
Until the proper paperwork is filed and the on-site inspector gives the go-ahead, operations are considered suspended, he explained.
Additionally, most animals slaughtered at CMMS are stunned electrically, rather than with a gun.
"On the day in question, our electrical equipment failed to operate and no hog was stunned," Hawkins said. "We switched to firearms and proceeded with the slaughter process, per our approved USDA plan."
He added not only was firing more than one shot not abusive, it's the exact opposite.
"All animals receive multiple shots, which is out of humane handling to insure no animal ever suffers," Hawkins said. "It's called a surety stun."
Hawkins said he's dedicated to making sure animals are treated humanely at his facility. In addition to conforming to USDA regulations, he's taken inspiration from Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist and advocate for humane livestock slaughter.
"I've been a subscriber to (the journal) Animal Welfare for years," he said. "I actually teach animal handling."
He said all employees who work with livestock at the facility are trained in humane handling.
"We have tours in here; we welcome people here," Hawkins said. "These are the most nonviolent-toward-animals people that you'd probably ever meet."