Feds, Slaughterhouse Lock Horns Over Visit

The legal action is the latest salvo in a seven-year feud between Hickory Hills Processing and the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Donald Carpenter said he's exempt from inspections because he only butchers animals, typically cows, for people who want meat for personal use. He doesn't have retail or wholesale sales.

HILLSDALE, Mich. (AP) — Federal inspectors are suing to get inside a small slaughterhouse in Hillsdale County after the owner said they could visit only "over my dead body."

The legal action is the latest salvo in a seven-year feud between Hickory Hills Processing and the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Donald Carpenter said he's exempt from inspections because he only butchers animals, typically cows, for people who want meat for personal use. He doesn't have retail or wholesale sales.

The government acknowledges there's an exemption for custom shops but insists it has the right to visit Hickory Hills, look at records and inspect the premises, about 80 miles south of Lansing.

"They don't need to be here," Carpenter said in a phone interview Monday. "You bring me a cow. I butcher it. You take it home. ... They just want to push me to see how far they can push me because I stood up for my rights."

The government first learned about the slaughterhouse in 2005, and asked Carpenter to allow an inspection. He refused, which sparked months of conflict.

Armed with a court order in 2007, inspectors entered and said they found two violations, including pest control. They got another court order to enter two years later, although Carpenter refused to turn the lights on, limiting the review.

Inspectors haven't been back inside since September 2011, when they found a handful of problems, including sanitation issues. The latest lawsuit says the government called in July to set up an inspection, but Carpenter replied: "over my dead body."

In an Oct. 5 filing in Grand Rapids federal court, the government accused Carpenter of a history of "defiant behavior" and threats.

Unless a judge intervenes, the government will be prevented from "fulfilling its public safety mission of ensuring that meat and poultry products are safe, wholesome, not adulterated, correctly marked, labeled and packaged," Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolyn Almassian said.

Carpenter, 61, said he has no employees and does the work himself.

"I've got two packets of paper, 2 inches thick. I haven't read through it," he said of the lawsuit. "I'm ready to just quit."

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