Halal butchery receives warning from city | City says sale of rabbits violated terms of DC Poultry Market’s SUP

Halal butchery receives warning from city | City says sale of rabbits violated terms of DC Poultry Market’s SUP
Two rabbits shown in a video posted to the DC Poultry public Facebook page on August 4. (Photo/DC Poultry Public Facebook Page)

By Amy Will  | awill@alextimes.com

DC Poultry Market, a family-owned halal meat market on Colvin Street, was issued a warning by the Alexandria Department of Planning and Zoning on Tuesday after informing an inspector they had been selling more than just poultry to their customers.

Despite DC Poultry’s statement to Planning and Zoning that rabbits had not been on their property for several months, two videos posted to the DC Poultry public Facebook page within the past week clearly show caged rabbits at the facility along with an array of poultry.

In a Facebook video dated August 4, a camera scans the room showing DC Poultry’s offerings and briefly shows a cage with two rabbits. Another post dated the next day of a YouTube video is an interview with a DC Poultry employee showing cages filled with fowl and eventually one with at least four rabbits. One rabbit curiously sticks its nose through the bars of its cage while the DC Poultry employee is being interviewed for the video.

Another Facebook post from May 3 indicated the shop did have rabbits for purchase, answering a customer’s inquiry in the comments section saying, “We still have rabbits for tomorrow.” In another Facebook exchange on April 27, a customer in the comments section asked DC Poultry, after other posters had been asking about various types of poultry, “What about goat???” DC Poultry Market’s reply was: “Not yet. We will do it soon. Right now only alive freshly cut chickens.”

The Times has a copy of the video and screenshot photos of all of the Facebook posts.

DC Poultry Market’s SUP procedure for violations states: “It is the responsibility of the special use permit holder to adhere to the conditions approved by City Council. The Department of Planning and Zoning will periodically inspect the property to identify compliance with the approved conditions. If any condition is in violation, the permit holder will be cited and issued a ticket. The first violation carries a monetary fine. Continued violations will cause staff to docket the special use permit for review by City Council for possible revocation.” Moritz elaborated on the frequency of city inspections in an emailed response. “Special Use Permits are inspected on a regular basis as well as in response to complaints. For DC Poultry, the Department issued a warning on 12/8/21 for spillage that occurred during trash pick up. Spillage was cleaned on the day of occurrence. Another warning was issued on July 13,2022 for propping a door open. Prior to this week’s complaint, the last SUP inspection was completed on 5/20/22, no violations were observed during inspection,” Moritz said.

According to Moritz, if there are no further violations, Planning and Zoning will continue conducting inspections “according to the normal rotating schedule” but will also do spot inspections if complaints are filed.

“Depending on the situation, we may increase our monitoring of a business for a period after a complaint has been investigated,” Moritz said in the email.

Mayor Justin Wilson, who in 2019 voted to allow DC Poultry Market to open in Alexandria, said in an email that the business should be held to the terms of their SUP.

“If there is a violation of their SUP, they should be cited for it. If not corrected, they are subject to a fine or SUP revocation. That is our normal approach,” Wilson said in the email.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson, who voted against the SUP in 2019, said she was looking into the current situation at DC Poultry but did not provide further comment as of the Times’ Wednesday deadline.

Moritz confirmed that DC Poultry was compliant during the visit by his department’s inspector and the Health Department was also informed “to make sure that everyone relevant is aware.”

This is not the first time health and safety concerns have been raised about DC Poultry. The Times reported in May 2022 about a complaint from December 2021. In that grievance, several businesses recounted seeing a “foul smelling sludge” consisting of flesh and feathers on the corner of Roth and Colvin Streets. Photos did show a mess on the road, but it was quickly cleaned up.

Much like Tuesday’s events, the complaint was filed with the city, which responded by sending a zoning inspector to examine the facility. During the visit, the inspector found that the business was compliant with SUP conditions and left owner Abdul Mused with a warning notice based on the photographic evidence.

Mused told the Times in that 2022 report that the December complaint was the fault of a nearby garbage company and not his business.

“The garbage company, they picked up our garbage and they were overloaded from a previous pickup and they spilled some of the garbage. It came out of their truck. It wasn’t in our shop, it was a couple blocks down,” Mused said at the time.

Another possible violation took place early on after the butchery opened in March 2019. In the May 2022 Times story, it was reported nearby businesses noticed the slaughterhouse would open its garage doors and front doors seemingly for ventilation purposes. The city requires in the slaughterhouse’s SUP that the facility keep its doors closed to prevent the release of particulates and odors, making the slaughterhouse’s open doors illegal.

The neighboring business later noted DC Poultry Market’s doors were subsequently kept closed and there have been no complaints since. Mused could not be reached for comment regarding Tuesday’s inspection.

There were also discrepancies in the DC Poultry SUP application and attached memorandums from Moritz and then-Alexandria Health Director Stephen Haering regarding the number of chickens that were expected to be processed annually at the facility. Moritz’s March 21, 2019 memo to City Council says if more than 20,000 birds are processed annually, then according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the poultry facility must have an on-site inspector present at all times to examine each bird before it’s slaughtered.

In his March 21 Memorandum to City Council, Moritz answered the question: “How many chickens would be processed by the applicant?”

The answer in Moritz’ memorandum was much higher than what DC Poultry wrote on their application.

“Based on a statement by the applicant at the public hearing on March 16, 2019 the applicant would have approximately 200 – 400 chickens per day (with the potential for approximately 500 per day during holiday seasons),” the memorandum from Moritz stated.

Even the low end of this spectrum would result in more than 60,000 chickens being processed each year at the site. This number is well above the threshold cited by Moritz trigger the on-site inspector requirement.

In a memorandum from Haering to City Council that was dated March 22, 2019, Haering said his understanding was that DC Poultry was likely to be exempt from the VDACS requirement to have an on-site inspector.

“Alexandria Health Department has made numerous calls to VDACS to determine how such a facility would be regulated in the City of Alexandria. From the information provided by the applicant, it is VDACS’s belief that the facility would qualify for an exemption from bird–by-bird inspection due to the number of birds that the applicant proposes to process,” Haering said in the memo.

In their SUP application, the business stated that “Saba Live Poultry is a slaughter-to-order facility that expects to process 350 to 420 chickens weekly.” The low end of this range would put DC Poultry Market below the 20,000 threshold, while 420 weekly would put it above.

Since they’re open seven days a week, they would average processing only 50 chickens per day at the 350 number and 60 per day at 420 per week.

Having an exemption is significant for a business, as there are only inspections at opening and once or twice a year for bird safety rather than all day every day, according to Haering’s 2019 memo:

“An exempt facility is inspected upon opening and then periodically to ensure ongoing compliance with sanitation requirements. On discussion with VDACS there is no set time frame for these inspections, but it would be anticipated that they would be annual or biennially in nature,” Haering said in the memo. “The number of birds processed is self-reported by the slaughterhouse, and the slaughterhouse is responsible for ensuring that they do not process more than the 20,000 birds allowed annually.”

VDACS Director of Communications Mike Wallace initially responded with this statement regarding inspections at DC Poultry Market:

“VDACS Veterinary Services performs disease surveillance at this location on a quarterly basis pursuant to Virginia Administrative Code 2VAC5-295- 9999. Failure to comply with this regulation is a civil penalty, not to exceed $2,500 per day per violation.”

When pressed to say whether VDACS had granted DC Poultry an exemption to on-site inspections, Wallace responded as the Times was going to press that DC Poultry has not been and will not be inspected at all by VDACS.

“Retail establishments, such as live poultry markets, are exempt from inspection pursuant to the United States Poultry Products Inspection Act,” Wallace said in the email.

Denise Dunbar also contributed to this story.