Nine former Wyoming farm workers have been charged with animal cruelty Monday after an undercover investigation has revealed that pigs were allegedly being beaten, punched and tossed in the air.
The probe began in April when an employee of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) began secretly videotaping the goings on inside Wyoming Premium Farms in Wheatland.
A graphic video posted on the website of HSUS showed workers caught kicking and punching pigs, tossing small piglets in the air and keeping the animals in deplorable conditions.
Wyoming Premium Farms Assistant Manager Shawn Colson was charged with seven counts of animal cruelty as a result of a follow-up investigation conducted after the release of the shocking video, according to Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
Employees Kali E. Oseland and Richard Pritekel were charged with four counts of animal cruelty each; Edward Raymond ‘Jake’ Pritekel, Steve Perry and Patrick D. Rukavina are each facing three counts, and Bryan David Bienz Jr, Kyla Erin Adams and Jarrod Barney Juarez were hit with two charges each.
All nine suspects have been reportedly fired from the farm since the allegations first came to light. Their first court appearance has been scheduled for January 18.
An animal cruelty conviction in Wyoming carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
‘I think that (the citations) will send a strong message to people that cruelty to animals won’t be tolerated, even if they are animals in the food chain,’ Adam Parascandola, director of animal cruelty response for the Humane Society of the United States, told the paper.
He added: ‘They deserve not to suffer fear and torment until that point.’
The Wyoming farm was a major pork supplier for companies like Tyson Foods, but as a result of the public outcry over the gruesome video, the corporation was forced to defend its dealings with the pig breeders.
‘We do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals by any of our suppliers,’ Tyson Foods spokesman Worth Sparkman said via email Monday.
Sparkman went on to say that Tyson’s Office of Animal Well-Being investigated the pig farm and is satisfied with steps it made to address the concerns, including hiring an onsite animal welfare consultant and retraining employees in proper animal handling.
The spokesman for the food giant also wrote that Tyson does not buy hogs raised at Wyoming Premium Farms, although a small subsidiary owned by Tyson does purchase older sows from the Wheatland-based business which are then sold to other companies.
‘However, these animals are sold to other companies and are not used in Tyson’s pork processing business,’ he pointed out.
Wyoming Premium Farms and the management services company said in a statement Monday that they are committed to ‘ensuring that swine health and welfare are adequately provided for every day.’
Although companies like McDonald’s and Burger King have denounced cruel treatment of pigs that spend their lives confined to tiny crates, activists argue that this type of behavior is all too common on factory farms.
Despite these claims, the Huffington Post reported that some states have embraced ‘ag gag’ laws to criminalize gaining access to a farm facility under false pretenses.
Troubles for the Wyoming pig farm started in May when the HSUS released shocking footage online showing workers viciously kicking animals, hitting them with sticks and tossing small piglets.
Shot by undercover activists over 27 days, the video shows a bearded worker taking his anger out on a sick-looking mother pig, shouting: ‘You want to f*** with me today? I’m in no f***ing mood!’ before punching it.
Later in the video, a severely obese worker hits and kicks a pig with a broken leg before bouncing her weight on its injury, yelling at it to get up. The pig lets out a blood-curdling squeal.
‘I am sickened and outraged by what I’ve seen, and any right-thinking person will have the same reaction,’ HSUS president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said at the time.
‘The shocking abuse at this facility shows why so many Americans are calling for reforms in the pork industry.’
The undercover investigator also found pregnant pigs with untreated abscesses and severe rectal and uterine prolapses, mummified piglet corpses, and baby piglets who had fallen through floor slats to either hang to death or drown in manure pits.
Pigs used for breeding were confined in two-foot-wide metal cages so small they can’t even turn around.
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