PETA scrutinizes Suffolk accident

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 10, 2004

On the heels of last week’s pig accident in Suffolk that left two dozen swine killed and others injured, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling on state agricultural officials and meat-industry giant Smithfield Foods to strengthen policies regarding animals injured in transport accidents.

After the truck carrying 200 pigs overturned, PETA officials arrived on scene in Whaleyville along with police and animal rescue workers questioning the response to the animals. PETA has now called on Virginia State Veterinarian Donald W. Butts and Smithfield to &uot;enact strict policies mandating that animals injured in transport accident be quickly and humanely euthanized,&uot; reads a statement from PETA.

According to PETA, the organization placed an emergency call to the state veterinarian’s office while at the scene last week but did not receive a reply until three hours later-&uot;too late to be of any help.&uot;

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&uot;Injured animals – including one who collapsed at the feet of industry representatives and was subsequently trampled by as many as 30 other animals – were left to suffer for four hours before a private veterinarian, called by local officials, arrived to euthanize them,&uot; PETA claims in its statement.

&uot;The state veterinarian is charged with ensuring ‘humane care and handling’ for animals in Virginia, and that should include animals who have the misfortune of being shipped to slaughter on Virginia’s roads,&uot; said PETA’s Vegan-Research Associate Cem Akin.

&uot;Other states have plans in place to handle these kinds of emergencies-it’s high time Virginia adopted a humane policy, as well,&uot; he added, &uot;especially considering that Smithfield is the biggest pig slaughterer in the world.&uot;

Lisa Hull, a publicist for Smithfield Foods, said Thursday that neither the truck nor the pigs belonged to Smithfield Foods.

&uot;We did not own the pigs or the truck,&uot; explained Hull. She added that until the animals reach the corporation’s property, they are not covered by its animal welfare management system, which addresses how the animals are treated from the time they are born to processing.

&uot;This policy is very strict and anyone who violates it could be immediately dismissed,&uot; Hull added.

PETA customarily issues a plea to the state and company officials following road accidents involving animals. After a May incident, Butts responded to PETA in a May 17 letter that the &uot;individual responsible for the animal being transported has responsibility for the health and welfare of that animal.&uot;

Butts added the next level of responsibility rests with the local animal control officer. &uot;The animal control officer is in a position to assess the situation, determine what resources are needed and how to obtain those resources,&uot; Butts wrote.

On Thursday, Elaine J. Lidholm, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said that the state office maintains the same position as indicated in the May 17 response.

&uot;Nothing has changed,&uot; she said.

PETA, an international organization headquartered in Norfolk, reports that deadly accidents are common in the factory-farming industry, where animal transport is largely unregulated and laws protecting animals bound for slaughter are non-existent. In May, a pig truck overturned near Petersburg, and PETA stated that dozens of pigs suffered for hours without veterinary care. In March, a truck overturned in Smithfield, and pigs injured in that accident were eventually shot with a captive bolt gun.