An animal activist group is calling for a criminal investigation into a recent incident at Smithfield Foods in Clinton, which resulted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture ceasing to assign inspectors for slaughter operations at the plant until corrective actions were taken.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter Monday to Clinton Police Chief Donald Edwards calling for an investigation and potential criminal charges against “Smithfield Farmland Corp.” and the worker responsible for repeatedly striking a pig in the head with an automatic gate at its slaughterhouse and knocking the animal’s head against concrete.
According to the USDA report, operations at Smithfield were suspended on Nov. 21 after an inspector witnessed a worker “willfully” pressing a button that closed a gate onto a stressed pig’s head, leaving the animal battered and bleeding. The inspector also saw a trail of blood at the scene. PETA noted that this incident may violate North Carolina’s cruelty-to-animals statute, which makes it a crime to injure or torment an animal intentionally.
“PETA is calling for a criminal investigation of this facility and the worker who deliberately struck a pig in the head with a gate on the slaughterhouse floor,” PETA Senior Vice President of Cruelty Investigations Daphna Nachminovitch said in a prepared statement. “There’s no difference between the fear and pain that this pig felt and how dogs, cats, or humans would feel if they were subjected to multiple blows to the head.”
Colin Henstock, investigations specialist for PETA, sent the letter to Edwards urging his department to look into the matter at 424 E. Railroad St., Clinton. He cited the report from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Inspection Program Personnel, Henstock stated, identified an “egregious .. non-compliance” and had to instruct the employee to stop pressing the button to close the gate on the hog’s head.
“The willful nature of the incident warrants a suspension action,” Henstock noted in his missive, noting that, by law, the actions should be deemed a Class 1 misdemeanor. “Repeatedly striking a conscious pig in the head with an automatic gate is not a ‘lawful’ activity, as FSIS’ action demonstrates. Importantly, FSIS action does not preempt criminal liability under state law for slaughterhouse workers who perpetrate acts of cruelty to animals.”
Reached Tuesday, Edwards said he did receive the emailed letter with the USDA report attached.
“I did get an email,” he remarked. “Like any complaint, we’re going to look into it. The only information I have is what has been supplied to me.”
A letter from USDA officials to plant manager Mike McNulty also addressed the suspension of the assignment of inspectors for slaughter operations at Smithfield, noting the action was in accordance with Title 9 of the Code of Federal Regulations, “after FSIS determined that your establishment failed to slaughter and handle animals humanely.”
“Although your establishment has a robust systematic approach for humane handling, the willful nature of the incident warrants a suspension action,” the USDA letter read. “The suspension action will remain in effect until such time as you provide the Raleigh District Office with adequate written assurances, including corrective actions and further planned preventive measures, to assure that livestock at your establishment are slaughtered humanely.”
In order to resume inspected operations, according to the federal correspondence, corrective actions should include at a minimum: identifying the assessment process used to determine the nature and cause of the noncompliances; identifying the likely cause of the system failure; describing specific actions that will be taken to eliminate the cause of the failures; and detailing future monitoring activities that will be used to ensure changes are implemented and are effective.