On the Hunt for Illegal Slaughter in Northwest Dade

Take a drive through West Miami-Dade -- anywhere from as far south as Kendall to beyond the northern borders of the county -- and you'll see the signs everywhere. Se Venden Puercos. Venden Animales. Animals for Sale.

Guess what? The farmers inside ain't selling their pigs alive. But they certainly don't have anything resembling a USDA license either. Welcome to South Florida's rampant illegal slaughter industry, where you can watch your dinner be slain in front of you. In Northwest Dade, arguably the epicenter of unlicensed butchery, you'll see lines forming to get into tiny, often filthy, farms in the days before Christmas. That's when locals buy hogs for Noche Buena roasts.

Recently, Riptide joined Miami-Dade Agricultural Patrol Unit detectives Mario Fernandez and Cheryl Wiggins as they made a surprise visit to a farm on NW 97th Avenue in Hialeah Gardens. They had been tipped the owners were slaughtering hogs without a license.

The farmers were likely tipped off by a driver who saw the detectives approaching: Their group of shacks, consisting of a few pig pens and a muddy goat field, sparkles with water and smells of Clorox.

But there's no quick hiding the evidence of slaughter: The insepctors found a large black butcher's table topped with knives and other tools for cleaning and de-hoofing; a rusty bathtub used for carcass-scalding next to a bucket full of shaved fur; and a small metal killing room, spotted with blood turned to rust.

The farm supervisor, a tiny elderly man named Julio who, without a molecule of hipster irony, wears a T-shirt boasting "My aunt got me this shirt because she loves me," showed them around with a nervous cordiality. In the feed tubs: rice and beans, and a whole lot else. As in most of these back-alley operations, Julio's hogs are fed plate-to-garbage leftovers from local Hispanic restaurants.  

"He's clearly slaughtering," Wiggins said as she checked out a pony Julio kept caged. "But we can't make an arrest unless we see him put down an animal in an inhumane fashion."

Besides, this is within the municipality of Hialeah Gardens -- technically out of Miami-Dade's jurisdiction. For the detectives, this was an information-gathering mission, and Julio stayed out of cuffs... for the moment.

Their outing is a deleted scene from "Pork Pirates," a feature about illegal slaughter that New Times will publish next week. In it, we describe the offing of a hog in a manner usually reserved for mafia dons, meet an irate unlicensed farmer who swears he's found a way around USDA regulations, and talk with the cop who disagrees. Plus we discuss the nutritional qualities of horse flesh.   

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