Federal inspectors are closely watching activities at Aberdeen’s DemKota Ranch Beef processing plant.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued what’s called a notice of suspension after an incident on Dec. 29. The notice has been delayed at the request of New Angus, the company that operates the processing plant on the south side of town.
New Angus now must take action to correct problems that were witnessed by a USDA inspector.
Under a notice of suspension, USDA could withhold inspection marks and inspection personnel, which are required for all meat sold commercially.
A Food Safety and Inspection Service inspector witnessed inhumane treatment of an animal at the plant on Dec. 29, according to a USDA letter sent to the plant.
The bovine was not rendered unconscious with a bolt stunner on the first attempt, according to the letter. Still conscious, the animal was trying to right itself on the rail after being hoisted by one hind leg. A worker then tried to stun the animal by inserting a knife between its neck and cervical area. At that time, the animal tried to move away from the worker, but was restricted because it was shackled, according to the letter.
Inspection program personnel called for the line to stop at 7:20 a.m. because of the noncompliant act. That’s when a worker used a hand-held bolt stunner to render the animal unconscious, according to the letter.
The inspector then informed the plant it would be contacting a USDA district office for further guidance.
While the inspector waited for a state public health veterinarian, the line was restarted, which violated USDA regulations, per the letter.
“Evidence demonstrates your failure to meet regulatory requirements … constituting a violation of the humane slaughter requirements and supporting the conclusion that your handling of livestock violated the provisions of the” Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the letter reads.
According to USDA, the infraction is classified as egregious.
The notice of suspension is delayed pending verification by the Food Safety and Inspection Service that “proposed corrective actions and preventative measures have been effectively implemented and are adequate to maintain compliance,” according to a second letter sent from USDA to DemKota.
Verification activities will be reported weekly to a USDA district office. Any changes to the corrective actions would have to be approved by the agency before being implemented.
DemKota responds to delayed suspension notice
Sara Kaelin, DemKota Ranch Beef marketing director, said the plant is working closely with USDA on a plan to address what happened. USDA will have to approve a final corrective plan.
DemKota is “thoroughly examining the factors contributing to the recent tragic event and taking appropriate actions to eliminate the risk and such incidents in the future,” she said in a statement.
Kaelin said the matter was immediately addressed and the plant was allowed to continue processing cattle the same day, which is confirmed in USDA correspondence.
“We are actively working to enhance our systems and processes across organizations due to all this. While cooperating fully with the USDA, we are limited in sharing details due to the ongoing investigation, so we prioritize the accuracies and the findings, and we’ll share information once available,” Kaelin said in the statement.
USDA notes past violations at DemKota Ranch Beef
This isn’t the first issue at the DemKota plant in recent history. Four dead head of cattle were reported to a USDA inspector on April 3, 2023.
After fans and the air unit failed overnight, conditions in the barn were “excessively foggy, humid and hot with elevated ammonia” the next morning, according to the USDA narrative of the event.
In March 2023, a bovine regained consciousness after being shackled. USDA also classified that violation as egregious. Other lesser violations have also been noted since October 2022, according to USDA records.
The slaughtering and processing of beef and other animals is governed by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. It “requires the humane treatment and handling of food animals at the slaughter plant while also providing a quick and effective death.”