No cruelty charges in pig wreck

Published 10:20 pm Monday, November 24, 2008

Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson has declined to press charges against anyone for their treatment of pigs following a Sept. 8 accident involving a pig truck on Godwin Boulevard.

“Based on the facts of this case and after a thorough investigation of the facts in this case, I find no basis for this office to initiate any criminal charges against any employee(s) of Smithfield Foods, Goldsboro Hog Farms or Murphy-Brown that were present at this accident scene,” Ferguson wrote in a letter to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The Norfolk-based animal rights organization had called on Ferguson’s office to investigate the companies for their treatment of the 125 or so pigs that survived the accident and were subsequently loaded onto another transport vehicle and hauled to Smithfield for slaughter.


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Dan Paden, a researcher with the group’s cruelty investigations department, shot video of the transfer effort and later forwarded the video, along with a complaint, to the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

The video showed workers pulling pigs by the ears and striking them with paddles — two practices that, according to the PETA complaint, had been ruled unacceptable by industry experts.

Acknowledging that the video “shows employees gently striking the animals in the rear and side of the head with the flat part of the paddles in an effort to move them from point A to point B,” Ferguson wrote that his office “does not feel that the strikes were meant to harm, based on the force used and the distance the paddles were drawn back to deliver the strike.”

Furthermore, the letter states, “the employee that was seen pulling the animal by its ears only did so for a few seconds and a very short distance” and in a manner that “did not appear to injure the animal.”

Paden had hoped a prosecution for the actions of Murphy-Brown and Goldsboro Hog Farms would change the response of hog farms and their haulers to such accidents.

“After witnessing five of these crashes, I’ve become convinced that animals will not be humanely and lawfully handled after an incident, unless the pork industry or its employees are charged and convicted for cruelty to animals,” he said in September.

Ferguson’s office, however, found no evidence of cruelty by those working at the scene of the September accident.

“Jennifer Woods, who assisted on the last investigation and who is considered one of the world’s leading experts in this field, advised that she does not know how else you are going to get a hog to move during the trauma involved in an accident scene other than using the paddle method which was used in this case, or an electric prod, which shocks the animal and is much more aggressive than using the paddles,” he wrote in his response to Paden’s complaint.

The accident occurred around 9 a.m. Sept 8, when the driver ran off the right side of the road to avoid a vehicle stopped on Godwin Boulevard to make a left turn. He struck a power pole before coming to rest in a ditch. The road was closed for seven hours while the scene was being cleared.

There were about 190 live pigs aboard the tractor-trailer at the time of the accident. About 125 survived the accident.