File: Melissa Pasanen
Kacey Knight working at Vermont Packinghouse in North Springfield
Federal regulators temporarily shut down the animal slaughter operation at Vermont Packinghouse
in North Springfield on Monday, according to a statement from the facility.
An on-site U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector flagged the facility for the "mis-stun" of a sheep. Animals are stunned before they are slaughtered.
"This caused the animal to suffer momentarily before another stun could be properly administered," said the statement from Arion Thiboumery, general manager of Vermont Packinghouse. During the one-day suspension, other aspects of the business — including meat packing and processing — remained in operation, according to Thiboumery.
The suspension was the fifth one the USDA has imposed on Vermont Packinghouse since October 2016, according to information on the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service website. The online source lists "Humane Handling Enforcement Actions."
The most recent sanction was not posted on the site. A Notice of Reinstatement of Suspension dated April 7, 2017, which concerns the failure to properly stun a cow, reads in part: "... you again failed to handle livestock humanely, resulting in the commission of an egregious act."
Thiboumery said Friday afternoon that this week's incident was distinct because the animal was a sheep.
"This violation is totally different and unrelated to previous ones," he said. "We've never had a violation with a sheep. Each one of these animals is handled very differently and stunned very differently. We had an accident occur, and we will strengthen that process and focus our attention on that."
Vermont Packinghouse slaughters many more pigs and cattle than sheep, he said. "In the course of the last year, we changed how we handle beef and pigs," Thiboumery said, adding that "all processes need to be subject to constant vigilance and constant improvement."
Kristin Haas, the Vermont state veterinarian, said slaughterhouse owners are required to share with the Agency of Agriculture all correspondence with the USDA that concerns the humane handling of animals. The slaughterhouse has five business days to provide the information, she said.
"We use that to start making a decision as to whether this would warrant an intervention from the state," she said. "It certainly is something that would warrant our attention and discussion, so that will definitely happen."
The purpose of stunning an animal is to "render it insensitive to pain or stimuli," Haas said. "A mis-stun would result in varying levels of that animal maintaining sensitivity or awareness."