USDA documents equipment malfunction at Lincoln Premium Poultry

2 months ago Fremont Tribune

The Dec. 23, 2022, malfunction of a carbon dioxide gas stunning room used on live chickens at Lincoln Premium Poultry’s (LPP) Fremont slaughterhouse will not lead to any regulatory action from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the incident will be logged in the company’s history files.

Maria Soledad Calvino, a public affairs Specialist with the Office of Public Affairs and Consumer Education for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA in Washington, D.C., said no investigation will result from the incident, but it will be documented in the event a similar occurrence happens in the future.

“Apparently this was an issue with the (carbon dioxide) they use to stun and euthanize the animals. The (LPP) employee followed the chain of command and it was fixed. It was noted and addressed, and the line was back operating the next day,” Calvino said. “I don’t know if (the inspector’s report) qualifies as an official report, I know it is a (report) sent to us to explain what happened. It was sent to so us so we can make note of it, and if it happens again, we have a history of (the incident).”

The carbon dioxide gas stunning room is utilized on live chickens at the LPP facility to render them unconscious before the birds are then killed by slaughterhouse workers. The goal of the gassing is to leave the live chickens unconscious so the pain of death is not felt.

According to an un-named USDA inspector’s report from Dec. 23, there was an unknown malfunction of the gas chamber. The inspector reported to his supervisor, Dr. Robert Reeder, Jr., district manager of the FSISD/USDA Office of Field Operations in Denver, Colorado, that he interacted with LPP slaughterhouse staff about, resulting in the process being temporarily stopped and chickens being removed from production.

In a Dec. 23, 2022, email to Reeder Jr., the inspector said on Dec. 22, 2022, he witnessed “way above average DOAs,” or dead on arrival of chickens which he attributed to the “extreme cold.”

In a prior interview, Lincoln Premium Poultry spokesperson Jessica Kolterman said the facility did experience the death more chickens than usual, an event she called, “higher than normal mortality,” without verifying the number of dead birds.

Kolterman said those deaths were in the hauling process, during which chickens are taken from a farm to the slaughterhouse.

However, the USDA inspector also reported a malfunction in the gas room, which he believed could have caused undue suffering. The FSIS and USDA does not have jurisdiction over the hauling of livestock to slaughterhouses, only inside the facilities.

“I made some rounds throughout the room and made it back to line one and noticed birds appeared stiff, not the normal placid you would see after (gassing unconscious). I looked in the trays and noticed birds being on sides on top of each other, on backs,” the inspector wrote. “I saw (a) supervisor in the area and said they are hanging too many frozen birds. I shut down line one at 11:03 a.m. initially thinking they are hanging an excessive number of frozen chickens.”

The inspector then reported he was confronted by a LPP supervisor questioning his actions.

“(A) supervisor in picking came to me asking what was wrong. I said, ‘they are frozen,’ and she said the (gassing system) machine is not operating properly. She wanted me to turn the line back on,” the inspector reported of his encounter with an LPP supervisor.

The USDA inspector said he told the LPP supervisor if the gassing mechanism was not functioning properly then the chickens would experience, “discomfort and suffering.”

He then reported another LPP supervisor arrived and informed him that company officials were working to repair the gassing machine. The company eventually decided to condemn the chickens in question.

Kolterman said the company had little comment on the incident.

“USDA has not made us aware of any regulatory actions related to our euthanasia line. Additionally, I cannot comment on a series of emails that I was not a party to,” Kolterman said on Jan. 24. “From our perspective the only incident that occurred was a higher than usual mortality level related to the polar vortex and the transport of birds by our contract carrier, and we have put processes in place to make sure that we prevent those types of situations in the future. Finally, we are not aware of any investigations by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.”

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is the agency with jurisdiction over the transportation of livestock from farms to slaughterhouses in the state. The agency does not have jurisdiction inside of slaughterhouses, though.

The incident was apparently discovered only after an unknown person made a tip to the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The entity made a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA, obtaining the inspector’s report and distributing it to the media nationwide.

PETA Vice President Dan Paden said in an emailed statement to the Fremont Tribune that the organization is seeking actions at Lincoln Premium Poultry that include installing on-site cameras to depict activities in their slaughterhouse.

“This incident underscores why PETA is calling on Lincoln Premium Poultry to livestream all its live-animal operations, including from its gassing chamber,” Paden stated. “Because if consumers could see for themselves how birds are left flailing, gasping, and panicking in pain and terror before they lose consciousness and workers slit their throats, they might understand the misery and agony that birds endure for Costco’s rotisserie chickens and they might consider opting for a vegan meal instead.”











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