Operator of Loxahatchee Facility Pleads Guilty to Inhumane Slaughter Practices
Benjamin G. Greenberg, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Larry S. Hortert, Regional Director, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS), announced that Victor H. Gonzalez, 53, of Loxahatchee, Florida, pled guilty yesterday for his involvement in the inhumane slaughter of swine and the sale of swine meat for human consumption, in violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), Title 71, United States Code, Section 1902(a) and the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), as amended, Title 21, United States Code, Section 610(b).
Gonzalez pled guilty before United States District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks. Sentencing is scheduled for August 27, 2018, at 10:30 a.m., in West Palm Beach. Gonzalez faces a maximum possible sentence of 3 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a year of supervised release.
According to the court record, including a Joint Factual Statement, Gonzalez was the president of El Milagro Nursery, Inc. (“Milagro”), a company with its principal place of business in Loxahatchee, Florida. Gonzalez was responsible for the day-to-day management and oversight of its activities, and engaged in the slaughtering, processing, handling, storing, and selling of meat and meat food products in commerce, for human consumption, including swine.
On December 17, 2016, federal officers conducted a surveillance and inspection visit at the Milagro facility. Employees were observed engaged in the slaughter and processing of swine for customers. The premises lacked proper, operable equipment to stun or otherwise render the animals insensible to pain, as required by law. The business practices at Milagro, as directed by Gonzalez, were not humane.
The HMSA established as the public policy of the United States, that the slaughtering or handling for slaughter of livestock, including swine, may only be carried out by humane methods. The law requires that such animals be rendered insensible to pain by one of the methods described in the law, prior to the animal being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cast, or cut. Title 7, United States Code, Sections 1901-1902(a).
Mr. Greenberg commended the investigative efforts of the USDA FSIS, Office of Program Evaluation, Enforcement and Review, Compliance & Investigations Division and thanked the Palm Beach County Agricultural Unit for their assistance. The matter is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.