As Miami's annual Nochebuena celebration approaches, local animal-rights activists are preparing for what they hope will be the largest protest to date at Mary's Ranch, South Florida's only slaughterhouse approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
For years, local protesters have been gathering at Hialeah-based Mary's Ranch during its busiest time of year — the days leading up to Christmas Eve — in hopes of spotlighting what they allege are unethical slaughterhouse practices.
Organized by SoFlo Animal Rights Activism
volunteers Gabe Kortez and Juan Endara, the protest is scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, December 23, and Friday, December 24, in Hialeah. The group asks participants to bring their own posters, though posters will be provided upon request. Megaphones, water, sunglasses, and facial coverings are strongly encouraged.
"We are protesting this week to draw attention to Mary's," Kortez tells New Times
. "Our goal, as always, is to have them shut down, but also to bring attention to the fact that, year after year, they do this without any legal consequences."
Mary's Ranch's Matadero Cabrera
, established in 1978 by owners Rodolfo and Gracia Cabrera, is known across South Florida for its live animal market, which sells lambs, goats, cows, pigs, chickens, and ducks. In 1991, it became the first USDA-approved slaughterhouse in South Florida, allowing customers to pick out an animal, wait as it's slaughtered, and take home the processed meat.
In recent years, the family-run business has become the target of animal-welfare activists, culminating in onsite footage captured in 2019 by the Animal Recovery Mission (ARM)
, a Miami-based group led by founder Richard "Kudo" Couto.
As part of its investigation, ARM dispatched an operative who was hired by the slaughterhouse as a meat processor during the 2019 holiday season. Over the course of several days, the operative compiled evidence ARM claims constitutes violations of the USDA's Humane Handling
practices. The operative reported having witnessed
prolonged torture, animals drowned alive in boiling water, and customers participating in the slaughtering process. (The investigation — and the graphic footage — were widely reported by local media
"The most shocking part of all of this is that everything we witnessed was being done in front of uniformed law enforcement and USDA meat inspectors that did absolutely nothing," Couto tells New Times
. "If multiple law enforcement and USDA inspectors are not intervening on an animal's behalf, that tells me this is a common practice here and has most likely been going on for decades."
Indeed, it appears that no government authority has formally sanctioned or accused Mary's Ranch of any legal violations related to animal cruelty.
Juan Luís Quintana, an attorney and spokesperson for Matadero Cabrera, responded to New Times
' inquiries with the following statement:
"On behalf of Mary’s Ranch, Inc. any allegation of animal cruelty amounts to defamation and is vehemently denied. Mary’s Ranch, Inc. is a responsible operation with the appropriate licenses. Mary’s Ranch, Inc. is a USDA Federally Inspected Plant with an onsite Federal USDA inspector conducting antemortem inspections and verifying the humane handling of animals when required by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).
"The onsite Federal Inspector is there to make all required USDA inspections. With a Robust Systematic Approach (RSA) for Humane Handling — that is, written procedures and up-to-date records available for Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) review — Mary’s Ranch, Inc., continues to focus on maintaining and improving humane handling and practices. Continued efforts to ensure the production of safe products are further reinforced by the establishment of Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs) and Hazard Analysis and a Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan. Mary’s Ranch, Inc., strives to be compliant with all required local, state, and federal laws."
attempted multiple times to contact the USDA by phone and email, without success.
For activists like Couto and Gabe Kortez, this week's protests aim to get an answer to the question: "What's really going on at Mary's Ranch?"
"We need as many people as possible to come out to protest the ongoing abuse of these innocent animals," Kortez says. "It's our hope that more people will stand up and realize what is going on here and start asking, 'Why are they getting away with this? Why is this animal abuse being overlooked?'"
Fort Lauderdale-based animal-cruelty investigator Susan Hargreaves, who says she has seen firsthand the practices at Mary's Ranch and plans to attend the two-day protest, tells New Times
she hopes more people will question the slaughterhouse's practices for themselves.
"In 41 years of work helping animals, I've seen a lot, and this is one of the most backward operations when it comes to any kind of animal slaughter," Hargreaves asserts. "It's grisly to see and is truly a travesty."