BRISTOL — A federal inspector’s report stating that a steer was inhumanely shot six times at a Washington County meat processing facility led to an investigation, authorities said, as the business said it is working to ensure it does not happen again.
“I just got the complaint this morning, and it will be investigated,” Washington County Sheriff Blake Andis said Wednesday.
The sheriff received a complaint — cited by PETA, the animal rights organization — regarding an incident that occurred May 18 at the Washington County Meat Packing facility on Campground Road near Bristol.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service said that the business “failed to slaughter and handle animals humanely.”
At 11:10 a.m. on May 18, an employee attempted to stun a mature Scottish Highland steer using a .22 Magnum rifle, the USDA report states. When employees attempted to move the steer to the knock box, the steer’s horns got stuck in an approximately 8-inch gap between the facility wall and the vertical beams at the back of the knock box.
The steer could not be moved from this position, so the employee attempted to stun the steer in that position. The initial stun attempt was ineffective, as the steer remained standing, the report states.
Four additional attempts to stun the steer using the same rifle were also ineffective, the report states. After the fifth attempt, the employee successfully stunned the steer using a 12-gauge shotgun.
The agency suspended the plant, which it said “does not have a robust systematic approach to humane handling.”
The USDA said the incident is considered egregious because there were multiple attempts, rather than a single blow or shot that would render an animal immediately unconscious, the report states.
To resume USDA inspections at the plant, the facility must submit corrective actions.
PETA obtained a copy of the report and submitted a letter to Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow seeking a criminal investigation.
“This disturbing report shows that this steer experienced a prolonged, agonizing death at Washington County Meat Packing,” said PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA is calling for a criminal investigation on behalf of the steer who suffered at this facility and urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan and help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses.”
Cumbow said he received PETA’s letter and forwarded it to the sheriff’s office for investigation.
The meat packing facility told the Bristol Herald Courier that the “reported information is not accurate.”
“Agriculture in Southwest Virginia is a very important way of life,” the facility said in a written statement. “We take the care, production and slaughter of animals very seriously.”
The incident in question is an issue that is possible due to the nature of the business, the business said.
“Our plant has an excellent history of stunning effectiveness,” the business said. “We have never had an incident like this before.”
The plant said it has identified the main reason for the stunning issue. The steer had 2.5-foot horns on each side and an extremely thick, mature skull.
As a result, the business said that, due to this one “isolated incident,” it will no longer accept cattle with horns longer than 10 inches, measured from base to tip.
“Monitoring activities have been put into place to ensure this type of incident does not happen in the future,” the business said. “Again we appreciate your thoughts and care for the animals, our industry and our community.”