HOMEDALE — Two inhumane-treatment violations at a slaughterhouse in Homedale are drawing national attention, with PETA calling for a federal investigation.
Food safety inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Owyhee Meat Co. in September and December for violations of federal laws that mandate the use of humane methods to slaughter livestock so animals don’t experience needless suffering.
In September, the plant received a notice of intended enforcement from the USDA after a supervising veterinarian observed a plant employee who was not authorized to use a stunning prod “repeatedly prodding a black beef cow that was balking at the entrance to the stunning area.” Inspectors deferred enforcement action after the company’s prompt cooperation, according to a Sept. 16 deferral letter.
While still under notice because of that violation, the Homedale plant was cited again for “egregious” noncompliance with federal law. According to USDA documents, an Owyhee Meat Company employee “failed to render a bovine unconscious with a hand-held captive bolt (HHBC) device,” and then “proceeded to shackle, hang, and bleed the animal with the animal still exhibiting signs of consciousness.”
“By this time the stun operator had already stuck the animal for bleeding and the bovine bellowed loudly several times,” acting district manager Dawn Sprowls wrote in the Dec. 11 notice of suspension to the company.
Owyhee Meat Company manager Shawn Roberts told the Statesman on Tuesday the company was working with USDA inspectors, retraining employees and complying with USDA-prescribed monitoring periods to prevent future incidents.
“We’re taking a lot of steps to make sure that never happens again,” Roberts said.
In a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Attorney Bart Davis and distributed in a national press release, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demanded further investigation and “criminal charges against those responsible.”
“The fact that inhumane handling persists at the establishment makes it clear that FSIS enforcement actions alone are insufficient to deter future violations and that criminal prosecution is in the best interests of the animals killed there, and the public,” wrote Colin Henstock, PETA’s assistant manager of investigations.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has not responded to Statesman requests for comment.
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Cassandra Fulghum, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boise, they were not allowed to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
Roberts said both incidents involved wild range cows that can be difficult for staff to handle. The September violation occurred after a cow “jumped and busted a gate,” Roberts said. He said staff also discovered that the bolt gun used in the December violation was cracked and malfunctioning, so bolt guns have since been replaced.
The Homedale company employs roughly 15-20 people. Roberts estimated that it processes 80 to 90 free-range, dairy, feedlot and beef cows every week — about 12,000 a year.
“We try, but we’re only human,” Roberts said.
If the Owyhee Meat Company doesn’t comply with regulatory requirements or implement further corrective actions prescribed by the USDA, the agency could take further enforcement action.
The USDA cited more than 60 other companies across the country in 2019 for violating the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. USDA records show Burley-based IDA-Beef was cited twice in 2019 for failing to easily stun and render cows “unconscious with a minimum of excitement and discomfort.”
PETA has focused on animal rights issues in Idaho in the past, with mixed results. Last July, the organization asked Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas to change the name of Chicken Dinner Road to “one that celebrates chickens as individuals, not as beings to kill, chop up, and label as ‘dinner.’”
Because it’s a rural road in Canyon County, Nancolas didn’t have jurisdiction, but still said there was “no chance” he’d change the name.
The organization says it is against “speciesism,” which it claims is a human supremacist worldview.
“PETA is just seeking some small measure of justice for these animals and to put an end to any ongoing inhumane treatment there,” Henstock told the Statesman.