RENO — Animal rights activists are urging the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into a Fallon meatpacker that's been cited three times in two years on accusations of inhumane handling and slaughtering of livestock.
The U.S. Agriculture Department temporarily suspended operations at York Meats last month after officials said an inspector watched a worker shoot a squealing hog with a rifle three times before a fourth shot left the animal unconscious.
Last November, the department said it took workers five attempts with a captive-bolt gun to render a lamb unconscious. In July 2018, workers shot a bull four times and left the conscious animal suffering for 20 minutes before returning to shoot again, the department said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants the U.S. attorney for Nevada to investigate what the group called "a pattern of repeated violations."
"These disturbing eyewitness reports show that animals experienced prolonged, agonizing deaths at York Meats," said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's senior vice president.
Colin Henstock, PETA's assistant manager of investigations, cited inspectors' eyewitness accounts in reports by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich.
"You can imagine the agony," Henstock said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Trisha Young said Wednesday she was trying to confirm that the PETA request had been received and declined further comment.
The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires animals be "rendered insensible to pain by a single blow ... or other means that is rapid and effective."
The device used to stun livestock before slaughter is known as a captive-bolt pistol, cattle gun or stunner. It fires a retractable bolt against animals' heads — often referred to as a "knock" — rendering them unconscious.
On July 15, an inspector wrote that a York Meats employee fired at a boar's forehead, but the hog remained conscious and "walking in a circle and squealing loudly."
After a second shot from a backup .45 caliber rifle, the animal continued to walk in circles "squealing louder." It wasn't until the fourth shot that it "fell on its side, stopped vocalizing and was rendered unconscious."
PETA spokesman David Perle said USDA's FSIS has authority whenever it sees violations to implement a suspension, "which shuts down the plant until the plant can submit a plan that corrects the issue and assures FSIS it won't happen again."
The service issued the most recent of three suspensions on July 15, then agreed to hold it in abeyance pending receipt of written descriptions the company had provided orally two days later.
The company's current status isn't clear. York Meats' web site indicated Tuesday and Wednesday it was "temporarily closed."
Company officials didn't respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.
Last November, a lamb fell on its side after the first knock but then immediately attempted to push itself up with its front legs, according to a USDA FSIS notice of suspension dated Nov. 20, 2019.
After three additional attempts, the lamb was still laying on its side, "breathing with its rib cage rising and falling, vocalizing and eyes tracking and blinking," the suspension notice said.
An owner "instructed a more experienced employee" to apply a fifth knock, which successfully rendered the animal unconscious, the notice said.
The July 2018 incident involved a bull that had been knocked four times, with four entry holes in its forehead that was still breathing, kneeling on its front legs with its head raised and eyes looking around, according to a USDA FSIS notice of suspension dated July 25, 2018.
When the inspector asked the stunner employee what the problem was, the employee stated the animal was too large for the .17 magnum rifle, the suspension notice said. It said that about 20 minutes later, the owner effectively stunned the bull with a .38 magnum pistol.