Federal Probe Sought: Pigs Repeatedly Shot in Head, Electrically Shocked

PETA has obtained recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports revealing recent violations of federal law at Custom Quality Packers outside Sims. In response, we sent a letter today calling on U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina Robert J. Higdon Jr. to review these violations of the Humane Methods of Livestock Slaughter Act and, as appropriate, file criminal charges against the facility and the workers responsible for repeated botched stunning attempts that left severely injured pigs crying out in agony.

A USDA inspector documented that on May 19, a worker attempted to stun a pig electrically and then shot the animal in the head, after which the pig remained conscious. An inspector also documented that on February 19, a worker botched the shooting of a pig who couldn’t walk—after the shot, the inspector had to point out that the animal was still conscious and crying out. The worker then retrieved more ammunition to shoot the pig again.

Records going back to 2018 reveal that workers cut the throat of a hoisted, “stunned” pig, who proceeded to scream, kick, and attempt to raise his or her head. The animal was lowered, cried out, and attempted to walk away, bleeding from the throat, before a shot to the head ended the pig’s agony. In yet another incident the same year, a malfunctioning electrical stunner allowed a pig to regain consciousness. A worker then shot the pig, who stood up while bleeding from the head before being shot again.

“These disturbing eyewitness reports show that these pigs endured prolonged, agonizing deaths at Custom Quality Packers,” says PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA is calling for a federal investigation on behalf of the pigs who suffered at this facility and urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan to help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to eat”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. The group notes that pigs, sheep, bulls, cows, chickens, and other animals feel pain and fear and value their lives, just as humans do, and that the only way to help prevent them from suffering in slaughterhouses is not to eat them.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to Higdon follows.

June 11, 2020

The Honorable Robert J. Higdon Jr.

United States Attorney

Eastern District of North Carolina

Dear Mr. Higdon,

I hope this letter finds you well. I would like to request that your office investigate and file appropriate criminal charges against Custom Quality Packers, LLC, and its workers responsible for repeated violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which requires that animals be “rendered insensible to pain by a single blow … or other means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted … or cut.”1 At the company’s slaughterhouse, located at 3571 Friday Rd. in Nash County, its staff have repeatedly shot and electroshocked pigs in botched slaughter attempts, leaving gravely injured, bloodied animals crying out and struggling to stand and escape, as documented in the attached reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

According to the reports, federal officials documented the following:

  • May 19, 2020: “[A]n employee attempted to stun a hog using an electrical stunning device. The initial stun attempt was unsuccessful as Inspection Program Personnel (IPP) observed the hog lying on its side with tracking eye movement, eye blinking, and natural breathing …. The employee immediately retrieved the backup hand-held captive bolt stunning device (HHCB) and attempted to stun the hog again, placing the HHCB on top of the pig’s head between its ears. The second attempt to stun the hog was unsuccessful, as IPP again observed the hog moving its eyes (tracking eye movement), blinking, and breathing. The employee then grabbed a second backup HHCB and applied a third stun attempt that rendered the hog unconscious.”2
  • February 19, 2020: “IPP identified an egregious humane handling non-compliance in which there was no immediate and effective corrective action following [a]n ineffective stun. The Inspector in Charge (IIC) observed an establishment employee attempt to stun a non-ambulatory market hog in the holding pen area using a .25 caliber [HHCB]. … After the initial stun attempt, the hog remained conscious, exhibiting vocalization and attempts to right itself. The employee failed to recognize that the hog was conscious and moved to stun a different non-ambulatory hog. The IIC informed the employee that the hog was still conscious, and the employee observed the hog before another employee went into the establishment to retrieve extra ammunition for the HHCB. Upon his return, the first employee administered a second stun attempt to the hog, and the hog was rendered unconscious.”3
  • February 13, 2018: “[T]he electrical stunner operator [was] standing over a stunned hog. … The stunner operator … attempted to apply another stun using the electrical stunning device. The animal did not appear to be receiving an electrical stimulus … and the gauges on the [electrical stunner] box indicated that no electrical power was flowing through it. … At this point, the hog began to show signs of movement. Another application of the stunner wand by the stunner operator had no effect. The [animal] … began to attempt to right itself into sternal recumbency. The hog’s attempt to right itself indicates that it [had] regained consciousness. At this point, [federal personnel] suggested that the stunner operator apply the back-up stunning protocol (i.e. a [HHCB]) to appropriately stun the hog. The stunner operator applied a blow with the captive bolt, after which the animal stood up with blood flowing from the wound in its head. The plant employees reloaded the captive bolt and delivered a second stunning blow to the hog which effectively rendered the hog unconscious.”4
  • February 1, 2018: “[A]n establishment employee [stuck] a pig that was shackled and hanging in the bleeding area. … Immediately after the employee stuck the pig to bleed it, the pig began to vocalize and kick/move its legs. The IPP observed blood flowing from the stick wound … [and] observed the hog attempt to right itself as well as move its head side to side. The hog repeatedly vocalized and blinked its eyes while moving. … The pig was lowered to the floor adjacent to the knock box and unshackled. Immediately after … it vocalized, stood up and attempted to walk away. The pig was still bleeding from the stick wound at this point. As the pig was attempting to walk away, an establishment employee immediately used the captive bolt and placed a shot to the top of the head of the pig which rendered the pig unconscious on the ground.”5

The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 classifies such offenses as misdemeanors and provides penalties of imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000.6 The persistence of inhumane handling at the establishment makes it clear that FSIS enforcement actions alone are insufficient to deter future violations and that criminal prosecution is in the best interests of both the animals killed there and the public. Given that the FSIS “fully supports the investigation of all those involved in alleged violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act” and that “[i]nvestigators from [its] enforcement division and from USDA’s Inspector General … stand ready to work”7 with offices such as yours, we respectfully ask that you investigate and bring appropriate criminal charges against those responsible for these violations.

Please let us know what we might do to assist you. Thank you for your consideration and for the difficult work that you do.

Sincerely,

Colin Henstock

Assistant Manager of Investigations

[1]7 U.S.C. § 1902.

2FSIS District 80 Manager Todd Furey, Notice of Reinstatement of Suspension, Custom Quality Packers, LLC, Est. M20129 (May 19, 2020) https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/b0d1a5b2-958d-440c-83f0-dec23990e3e5/M20129-NOROS-05192020.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

3FSIS District 80 Manager Todd Furey, Notice of Suspension, Custom Quality Packers, LLC, Est. M20129 (February 19, 2020) https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/6d321565-3e46-48b2-93c2-f058c90a71fa/m20129-nos-021920.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

4FSIS District 80 Manager Steve Lalicker, Notice of Suspension, Custom Quality Packers, LLC, Est. M20129 (Feb. 13, 2018) https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/b0e44adb-c5e0-4058-bd14-aae06074fb78/M20129-Suspension-021318.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

5FSIS District 80 Manager Steve Lalicker, Notice of Intended Enforcement, Custom Quality Packers, LLC, Est. M20129 (Feb. 1, 2018) https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/86adc8b8-ed0c-434c-9826-5bc08b53b8fa/M20129-NOIE-020118.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.

621 U.S.C. § 676.

7U.S. Department of Agriculture, FSIS, “Under Secretary for Food Safety Shares Some Insight on the Humane Handling of Livestock” (Jan. 7, 2011) https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2011/01/7/under-secretary-food-safety-shares-some-insight-humane-handling-livestock (Last accessed on June 11, 2020).

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