An animal rights group is calling for criminal charges after reports that nearly 100 pigs froze to death when exposed to cold temperatures on trucks at a Smithfield meat processing plant in Crete in February.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to the Saline County Sheriff's Office on Wednesday requesting an investigation under the state's Livestock Animal Welfare Act.
The report, which came after a tip from PETA, details how 91 pigs died between Feb. 15-16 while waiting in trucks in temperatures as low as 27 degrees below zero. The agency reported that Smithfield workers did not unload the pigs for an hour from at least 40 trucks after they arrived during bitterly cold weather.
"A USDA inspector also saw pigs suffering from frostbite lesions — up to 1 foot long — in every pen at the facility’s holding barn and had seen other pigs suffering from frostbite in early February," PETA investigator Colin Henstock wrote in a letter to Saline County Sheriff Alan Moore. "These findings appear to constitute scores of felony violations of Nebraska's Livestock Animal Welfare Act."
The livestock law, passed in 2010, aims to protect animals from intentional abandonment, neglect or cruel mistreatment.
Keira Lombardo, Smithfield's chief administrative officer, said the company worked with producers to adjust receiving schedules during the period of below-zero temperatures and to ensure that livestock trailers were prepared for the extreme weather.
"Trailers were monitored to ensure there was necessary boarding and bedding to protect the pigs from the elements," Lombardo said in a statement. "At the facility, trailers were offloaded into the heated barn as quickly and safely as possible during the extreme (cold)."
Smithfield cited a USDA inspection memo that found "no evidence to support the false claim of neglect."
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