Criminal Probe Sought: Conscious Steer Shot Six Times in Head

For Immediate Release:
June 15, 2020

David Perle 202-483-7382

Bristol, Va.

PETA has obtained a U.S. Department of Agriculture report revealing a recent violation of law at Washington County Meat Packing outside Bristol, Virginia. In response, we sent a letter today calling on Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Joshua Cumbow to review the matter and, as appropriate, file criminal cruelty-to-animals charges against the facility and the worker who shot a steer in the head five times with a .22 Magnum rifle, after which the animal remained standing, fully conscious, and looking around. It took a sixth shot with a 12-gauge shotgun before he was finally rendered unconscious.

“This disturbing report shows that this steer experienced a prolonged, agonizing death at Washington County Meat Packing,” says PETA Senior Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch. “PETA is calling for a criminal investigation on behalf of the steer who suffered at this facility and urging all compassionate members of the public who are disturbed by this cruelty to go vegan and help prevent more animals from suffering in slaughterhouses.”

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to eat”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. The group notes that steers, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other animals feel pain and fear and value their lives, just as humans do, and that the only way to help prevent them from suffering in slaughterhouses is not to eat them.

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PETA’s letter to Cumbow follows.

June 15, 2020

The Honorable Joshua Cumbow

Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney

Dear Mr. Cumbow,

I hope this letter finds you well. I would like to request that your office (and the proper local law enforcement agency, as you deem appropriate) investigate and file suitable criminal charges against Washington County Meat Packing and the worker responsible for shooting a steer in the head six times before the animal was finally rendered unconscious on May 18 at its slaughterhouse located at 20505 Campground Rd. outside of Bristol. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) documented the incident in the attached report, which states the following:

“[A]n employee attempted to stun a mature Scottish Highland steer using a .22 Magnum rifle. … The initial stun attempt using a .22 Magnum rifle was ineffective, as the steer remained standing. Four (4) additional attempts to stun the steer using the same rifle were also ineffective, as the animal continued standing, continued rhythmic breathing, and exhibited tracking eye movement. After the fifth unsuccessful stunning attempt using the .22 Magnum rifle, the employee successfully stunned the steer using a 12-gauge shotgun.”1

This conduct appears to violate Va. Code § 3.2-6570. Importantly, FSIS action does not preempt criminal liability under state law for slaughterhouse workers who perpetrate acts of cruelty to animals.2

Please let us know what we might do to assist you. Thank you for your consideration and for the difficult work that you do.


Colin Henstock

Assistant Manager of Investigations

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

[1]FSIS District 80 Manager Todd Furey, Notice of Suspension, Washington County Meat Packing, Est. M32062 (May 18, 2020)

2See Nat’l. Meat Assoc. v. Harris, 132 S. Ct. 965, 974 n.10 (2012) (“. . . States may exact civil or criminal penalties for animal cruelty or other conduct that also violates the [Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA)]. See [21 U.S.C.] §678; cf. Bates v. Dow Agrosciences, LLC, 544 U.S. 431, 447 (2005) (holding that a preemption clause barring state laws ‘in addition to or different’ from a federal Act does not interfere with an ‘equivalent’ state provision). Although the FMIA preempts much state law involving slaughterhouses, it thus leaves some room for the States to regulate.”).

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