Inhumane Violations, Fecal Contamination at HSUS VP’s Operation

Humane Society of the United States vice president Joe Maxwell claims to represent “humane” farming, but his record is questionable. As we have reported, Maxwell’s pork co-op Heritage Acres was suspended by the USDA for violations of humane slaughter/treatment regulations in 2009.

We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the USDA to get further details on the violations of Maxwell’s operation. Needless to say, the gory details bring new meaning to the term hypocrisy. In all, USDA records show that Maxwell’s Heritage Acres was cited more than 150 times for noncompliance violations ranging from humane handling issues to meat contamination to unhygienic conditions. More specifically, it was found to excessively use hotshot and stunners on its livestock, have meat contaminated with fecal matter and tainted carcasses, and display animal waste and condensation in the slaughter room.

There’s a certain irony in Joe Maxwell attacking “factory farmers” when his own operation was a 100,000-square-foot stainless steel factory. And a vice president of HSUS running an operation suspended twice for humane slaughter/handling violations illustrates that it’s not what you say that helps animals, it’s what you do. Maxwell’s record on animal welfare has quite the black eye (kind of like PETA).

If he was smart, he wouldn’t be so quick to cast the first stone. But then again, if he was smart, he wouldn’t have partnered with an extremist organization trying to put farmers who use animals out of business in the first place. After all, the phrase isn’t “useful smarty-pants” – it’s “useful idiot.”

Download the full report here (14 MB)—and here are some highlights.

Humane Handling:

  • Citation: Excessive use of hotshot: Hotshot is used to control the movement of pigs. According to the FOIA report:

“One employee was observed to use a hotshot on 5 consecutive hogs in the alleyway, applying more than one jolt on each of the hogs. Each of the five hogs vocalized at each application of the hotshot…. By failing to drive livestock with a minimum of excitement and discomfort, the establishment did not comply with 9 CFR 313.2(a). By failing to use an electric prod as little as possible, the establishment did not comply with 9 CFR 313.2(b).”

  • Citation: Excessive and inappropriate use of stunner: The stunner is used to knock pigs out before slaughter. The USDA found that Maxwell’s operation excessively and incorrectly used it:


“While [redacted] positioning himself to stun the other hog [after stunning the first hog], the first hog began to exhibit eye movements indicative of starting to regain consciousness. After applying the stun to the second hog [redacted] administered a second blow from the captive bolt to the first hog. When [redacted] returned his attention to the second hog, he found that it, like the first hog, exhibited eye movements indicative of starting to return to consciousness, so he applied a second stun to the second hog as well. Failure to stun an animal with a single blow of a stunner is a noncompliance with 9 CFR 313.15 (a)(3). This establishment is presently operating under a suspension in abeyance for failure to meet regulatory electrical stunning requirements.”


“Observed that procedures at the stunning area did not follow the establishment’s action plan. Action plan item #4 states, “In-plant personnel will verify that sticking of a stunned animal is completed before the next animal is stunned.” During this verification activity, two large sows entered the stunning conveyor at the same time… failure to do them separately was a failure to follow the establishment’s action plan as described in the Verification Plan.”

  • Citation: Inhumane handling: The USDA regulates the handling of livestock in an attempt to treat them as humanely as possible. Maxwell’s operation violated these humane regulations:

“The trailer was not properly positioned leaving a void of approximately 12 inches between the trailer and the unloading area. Plant employees were forcing animals off the trailer. Although no animal was injured, an unnecessary opening was created between the trailer and unloading area creating the potential for injury to animals.”

Meat Contamination:

  • Unsanitary: The USDA enforces strict sanitary conditions to prevent contamination. Maxwell’s operation was cited numerous times for the inability to maintain such conditions:

“I observed a company employee who was eviscerating pigs drop the viscera onto the floor of the evisceration platform the employee then proceeded to remove the lungs and heart without washing his hands.”

  • Tainted Carcasses: The USDA ensures diseased carcasses avoid contact and contamination with other healthy carcasses. Maxwell’s operation was unable to follow these regulations:

“Two of the carcasses had open draining abscesses on their surface. Another carcass had obvious fecal and bile contamination along the belly split line and forelegs. The carcasses had been jammed together on the outrail and were in contact with each other, transferring contamination from one carcass to another.

  • Fecal Matter: One of the most potentially toxic materials in the slaughter process is fecal matter, which the USDA strictly regulates. Maxwell’s operation was unable to accurately control the fecal matter at his facility:

“While performing slaughter duties I observed a swine head, front shanks and belly area contaminated with fecal material… The fecal material had also contaminated the non-moving edge of the viscera pans and the rails around the area where the gutters work. The employee failed to sanitize these areas and placed 2 heads in the pans contacting the contaminated non-moving edge of the pans, also the jowls on one swine carcass contacted the contaminated rails.

Unhygienic Conditions:

  • Debris and hygiene: Maxwell’s operation was cited on numerous occasions for the inability to maintain hygiene, such as:

“Found two hogs on the scalding area floor surrounded with contaminated water and hair and debris from the scalder and left for approximately 1 Hr. during which, one plant employee in the scalding area had an injury and was bleeding. “

  • Animal Waste: The USDA regulates the disposal of carcass parts mainly for hygienic reasons. Maxwell’s operation was unable to meet these requirements on numerous occasions:

“Identified meat and fat scraps in 5 separate locations. There was a piece of fat greater than one inch in length on the inside surface of the stainless steel product conveyor on line 1; a similar sized piece of fat was found on the inside of the stainless steel product conveyor on line 2; a piece of meat and fat greater than 2 inches in length was found in the support frame of the ham line; a piece of meat and fat greater than 2 inches in length was found in the frame of the terminal roller section.”

  • Condensation: It is very important in the slaughtering process to maintain a hygienic environment with minimal condensation, a frequent medium in which contamination can be transited. Maxwell’s operation was cited frequently for the inability to prevent the buildup of such condensation:

“Observed water dripping from an overhead fan near the exit of the final carcass wash cabinet. Condensation had accumulated on the fan’s guard to such a degree that it was dripping on the floor. Because this fan is about 6 feet away from the final carcass wash, it could blow condensation onto a carcass before the carcass is taken to the cooler.”