A Spring slaughterhouse and meat-processing plant that was once cited for discharging bloody wastewater onto neighboring property has been given a stern talkin'-to by state inspectors for violating laws related to handling livestock.
The warnings came from a whistleblower who relayed concerns to PETA alleging that workers at Fisher Ham & Meat punch, kick, drag and electro-shock pigs and other animals that don't "cooperate" or walk fast enough when being unloaded from transport trucks.
In a December 2016 letter to facility owner Craig Fisher, a PETA investigator also alleged that the plant's "holding pens are filthy, and animals are forced to lie in accumulations of feces, urine, and blood. Pens often contain a mixture of cows, pigs, goats, and sheep.. .Workers leave discarded bowels and intestines in trash cans behind the facility. Open chemical buckets that are not properly labeled are left 'all over the plant.'"
The PETA investigator, Colin Henstock, also alleged in an email to a Texas Department of State Health Services manager that "the inspector assigned to this facility witnessed this abuse and these conditions but did not take enforcement action."
State health inspection records provided by PETA show that authorities responded promptly to the allegations, and that a December 20, 2016, inspection noted that "approximately 20 swine were observed standing in approximately a foot of water" in a holding pen, which is a violation of federal regulations. (The Texas Department of State Health Services meat safety assurance unit enforces federal regulations.)
The inspector also saw employees "using excessive force by repeatedly hitting the swine on the head with canvas paddles as they transitioned from the holding pens to the barn. The employees also used the canvas paddles to force the swine to move faster than walking speed."
The inspector noted that she spoke with Fisher, who said that he "retrained" his employees "on the proper way to move livestock." (We reached out to Fisher, but haven't heard back).
Federal regulations said that "livestock shall not be forced to move faster than a normal walking speed," and call for minimal use of canvas paddles, electric prods or any other devices meant to "drive animals."
While the report also noted that an employee was seen dragging a lamb by the ears, the inspector did not see any employees using electric prods to make the pigs hustle. (According to the documents provided by PETA, Craig Fisher told state health inspection managers that he told his employees not to use "electrical shock devices on the animals.")
The report also noted that, behind the facility, "barrels holding inedible viscera" were not properly maintained, and that some were leaking blood. While this drew "an infestation of flies," the bugs "were not creating an insanitary condition inside of the establishment."
However, a follow-up inspection noted that the violations had been corrected.
Records provided by PETA show that state health inspection managers met with two inspectors assigned to Fisher Ham & Meat and reminded them "to keep ever vigilant and to not hesitate to take the action of immediately stopping an inhumane incident when observed."
Both inspectors denied seeing any of the excessive force alleged in PETA's letter.
In 2012, Fisher Ham & Meat entered into the first of several settlements with the Harris County Attorney's Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over the illegal discharge of wastewater overflowing onto neighboring properties. The settlements came after years of complaints over an improperly maintained wastewater pond that resulted in ditches being filled with "red, bloody water" with "a strong rancid odor."
In 2009, air quality investigators responding to complaints over the odor found hog pens "flooded with stagnant water."
The slaughterhouse's owners denied the allegation, but in April and May 2012, they agreed to temporary injunctions requiring improvements to the wastewater pond. However, the county sought in August 2012 to hold facility president William Fisher in contempt, for allegedly violating the terms of the injunction. According to the contempt motion, a July inspection of the facility noted that wastewater was still overflowing, and county attorneys accused William Fisher of willfully violating the injunction. (Based on court records, it does not appear that William Fisher was ever cited for contempt.)
The parties subsequently entered into a settlement, in which Fisher Ham agreed to clean up the wastewater pond and pay a civil fine of $20,000, which could be waived if the pond was cleaned within a certain timeframe. The state's final motion, in November 2011, stated that the facility had met the terms of the settlement.
Fisher's customers include the Aldine and Spring independent school districts, according to PETA. The districts purchased more than $21,000 worth of product from Fisher in 2015 and 2016. (The animal welfare group provided copies of the districts' check registers showing some of the purchases.)
The company's website states that Fisher Ham & Meat has been operating since 1929, and continues to "deliver the highest quality processing to their family, neighbors, friends, [restaurants], wholesalers, and the general public." The site also claims that the company is "ranked in the top 20 Pork Wholesalers [sic] in the United States!"
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