A second animal handling violation for one of the only slaughterhouses on the Big Island has some ranchers worried about their futures.
Hilo butcher shop Kulana Foods was briefly suspended from operations in December after an inspector with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service reported employees mishandled a pig during transportation.
According to the USDA report, the employees were attempting to unload an uncooperative pig from a truck. After the pig refused to stand, the employees reportedly attempted to drag the animal from the truck using ropes tied to its ankles.
The inspector informed the employees they were not allowed to drag a conscious pig, whereupon the employees lifted the pig and carried it from the truck. After removing the pig from the truck, the animal willingly stood and was led away without further incident.
Kulana’s suspension was issued Dec. 27, but it was held in abeyance the following day after Kulana Foods proposed corrective actions to prevent further incidents.
However, despite being permitted to continue slaughter operations, Kulana Foods informed island ranchers it would cease small animal slaughter operations indefinitely.
“I guess they decided it’s too risky to keep the small animal slaughter up,” said Brittany Anderson, owner of Sugar Hill Farmstead in Honomu.
Anderson speculated that Kulana Foods feared repeated suspensions for its small animal operations — which include pigs, lambs and sheep — would threaten its much larger cattle slaughter market.
“They called us and explained the incident and told us they would temporarily be stopping services,” said Leslie Carroll, owner of the Carroll Guava Ranch in Keaau, which raises lambs that ordinarily would be slaughtered at Kulana Foods.
Carroll said she suspects the citations against Kulana Foods are the result of politically motivated individuals who are opposed to the consumption of animals. In fact, Kulana’s first citation led to animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calling for a criminal investigation against the company.
With Kulana Foods halting small animal slaughters, Carroll said she has no option to have her lambs slaughtered on the island.
Because Carroll sells lamb meat at local markets, the slaughter process has to be USDA approved, she said. While Carroll said she is more than capable of humanely slaughtering lambs herself, without USDA approval, the meat cannot legally be sold.
While a mobile slaughterhouse operated by the Hawaii Island Meat Cooperative is periodically available, Carroll said she would have to slaughter about half of her flock for that option to be financially viable.
Without available slaughter options, ranchers are being forced to make hard decisions about what to do with their livestock. Anderson said she knows of one pig farmer who sold off most of his animals at a loss, while her own herd of 14 sheep is running out of space as new lambs are being born.
“We’ve just been slaughtering some of them ourselves and putting them in the freezer, and I guess we’ll be eating lamb for the next few months,” Carroll said, whose situation is similar to Anderson’s.
Carroll said if she cannot find a place to slaughter her lambs soon, she might have to stop raising the animals altogether.
“It’s taken me years to get here, to get all the knowledge and skill to make this work, and it will all go away,” Carroll said.
Representatives of Kulana Foods did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Email Michael Bretovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.