The moment a disturbing video hit the web in November, Bio Corporation had a public relations problem.
But there was no sign of further punishment for the Alexandria company, which sells frozen or preserved animal carcasses to schools for student dissection. The Alexandria Police Department had been dragging its feet, even after a judge ordered the department to follow up.
That changed the day after Newsweek and other outlets published the undercover video, according to a criminal complaint, and this week the state of Minnesota filed criminal charges accusing the company of 25 counts of animal cruelty against pigeons and crayfish.
The undercover video publicized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) showed Bio Corp workers euthanizing pigeons by simply dropping a crate into a tank of water, drowning them; crayfish were said to be killed by injecting them with latex, which one expert said would lead to "prolonged ... suffering" prior to death.
The complaint gives an insight into the macabre world of animal dissection trading, at least as practiced by Bio Corporation. Company co-owner Ben Hedstrom told a police investigator that the Alexandria facility "typically receives frozen pigeons" for re-sale to schools, but occasionally, "some organizations or individuals" will leave live birds.
From the complaint:
“Hedstrom explained that this does not happen often, but that they drown the pigeons when they receive them, stating they euthanize the pigeons ‘the best way we know how.’ Hedstrom was familiar with the common practice of gassing pigeons, but stated the company is not in favor of that process due to employee safety concerns.”
As for the crayfish, Hedstrom claimed they've been euthanized -- submerged in a bath of "ethylene glycol, formalin, and acetone" -- before the latex injections, and any signs of life seen after that are merely "postmortem nerve movement." PETA's veterinary expert found even this explanation unsatisfactory. Ethylene glycol (the main ingredient in antifreeze, per the complaint) and acetone are "unacceptable for euthanasia of aquatic invertebrates" under American Veterinary Medicine Association standards.
Each count of animal cruelty was enhanced due to its being a "second or subsequent gross misdemeanor" offense, a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.
In a statement to Newsweek, co-owner Bill Wadd said Bio Corporation was the victim of a "sting-type operation" which "put our operation in a bad light."
Wadd defended drowning as a "better and arguably more humane method" of euthanasia for pigeons, saying it takes a "short time to complete the process." (PETA's experts had contended drowning could result in a painful death lasting up to 10 minutes.) Wadd added that "because of the complaint," Bio Corporation would be gassing any live pigeons it receives from now on, and would only be ordering crayfish that are already dead.