RANTOUL — Officials at a Rantoul hog-slaughtering plant hope the addition of a second carbon-dioxide tunnel will prevent a reoccurrence of an incident earlier this year when two hogs were awake on a line that was taking them to a scalding tank.
University of Illinois alum Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science and noted consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, said she has been told by a Rantoul Foods official that the company planned to add a second carbon-dioxide facility.
Jim Jendruczek, president and managing partner of Rantoul Foods, confirmed the CO2 facility was being installed.
"It's not in operation yet," he said. "The machine (has been installed), but we haven't put the building around it."
The latest violations — among five cited since 2012 — were discovered April 17 while a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector was performing observations of animals on the bleeding line for consciousness.
The supervisory public health veterinarian observed a previously stunned market hog start to show signs of consciousness and a gag reflex about two minutes after being stuck while on the bleed line. A second pig was also discovered to be awake.
The USDA cited Rantoul Foods for violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
The company was able to resume operations after promising to slow the slaughter line so animals would be properly sedated entering the scald tank. Animals emerging from the carbon-dioxide tunnel are required to be in a state of surgical anesthesia and are to remain in this state throughout the shackling, sticking and bleeding process — except for those hogs that have died during the CO2 process.
Rantoul Foods has also been placed on the Humane Slaughter Plant Suspension List four other times — twice within a two-month period in June and August of 2014, and once each in 2012 and 2013. USDA records show only that the 2012 citation was for inhumane treatment/slaughter. Details were unavailable for the other violations.
Jendruczek said he can't remember anything on the earlier violations other than one that involved improper loading of hogs by a truck driver who was not a Rantoul Foods employee. Jendruczek said none of the incidents involved problems with the CO2 facility.
Jessica Chipkin, a volunteer for Crate Free Illinois, which aims to educate consumers about factory farming and the impact on animal welfare, said it appears Rantoul Foods' primary problem with pigs being awake after entering the carbon-dioxide facility is that the line was going too fast.
Chipkin said she was surprised when she noted on the company's website that the company's barn and pen were designed by Grandin.
Grandin told the Rantoul Press that she did not design the company's carbon-dioxide system. Rather, she designed the previous electrical stunning system when the facility was known as Meadowbrook Farms. The plant was bought by its current owner in 2010.
"It used to be a different company" that owned the plant, Grandin said. "I laid out the stockyards. They had electrical stunning, and they switched it to CO2. I didn't have anything to do with that switch."
Grandin said she has not seen any of Rantoul Foods' carbon-dioxide stunning equipment.
"When plants change owners, then things change. You have to have good equipment, and you have to have good management," said Grandin, a renowned spokeswoman on autism, who was portrayed by actress Claire Danes in the 2010 HBO film about her.
Rantoul Foods' website touts the barn and pen designed by Grandin as "providing the inbound pigs a stress-free and humane environment. This special design has no right-angle corners."
Grandin said most larger facilities have two CO2 facilities and consequently don't have the problem of hogs waking up before they reach the scald tank because they allow the line to run slower.
When Chipkin saw the company promoting its association with Grandin on its website, she wondered how Grandin would feel about the company's violations.
Chipkin said she attempted to get Rantoul Foods officials to contact Grandin, but none did. Finally, she asked Grandin to call an official with the company, which she did.
The official told Grandin the company was adding another stunner.
"Temple said their problem is they're (using) a single machine," Chipkin said. "They need to slow it down and leave (the hogs) in longer. She reinforced that management should make this happen."
The company hopes that by adding a second CO2 facility, there will be no more such problems.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.