… On Thursday, Farm Sanctuary and six other animal protection groups filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to make it illegal for pork plants to slaughter the animals, typically referred to as “downers” or “downed” pigs because they are unable to stand or walk when they arrive at the plants…
Downed pigs are turned into pork products. A new lawsuit seeks to stop that.
By Kimberly Kindy, The Washington Post
Feb. 6, 2020
Congress ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture nearly 20 years ago to investigate how often pork plants slaughter hogs that arrive too sick or exhausted to stand.
The goal of the mandate was to develop ways to humanely handle the animals — and to determine whether they should be keep out of the food supply. That never happened.
Now, as dozens of U.S. pork plants are poised to begin a new safety inspection system, animal welfare groups and some members of Congress are trying to stop lame and fatigued animals from being turned into food for humans. The new program makes plant workers — not USDA inspectors — responsible for evaluating the health of pigs as they arrive at the facilities.
On Thursday, Farm Sanctuary and six other animal protection groups filed a federal lawsuit that seeks to make it illegal for pork plants to slaughter the animals, typically referred to as “downers” or “downed” pigs because they are unable to stand or walk when they arrive at the plants.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said he supports the groups’ efforts and is working with other lawmakers on a plan that will include a public education campaign and renewed efforts to pressure the USDA to take action.
“It’s shameful that this is where we are at. These are sick, damaged animals,” Blumenauer, a member of Congress’s Animal Protection Caucus, said in an interview. “It’s ludicrous that this is still an issue and that the industry is now in charge of [evaluating] the animals. We will ultimately win like we did with downer cows.”
The USDA made it illegal in 2007 to slaughter downed cattle for beef products, and in 2016 outlawed the slaughter of downed calves for veal. Agriculture officials cited safety concerns because the lame animals are more likely to harbor and transmit food-borne diseases in beef. The USDA also said that allowing their slaughter “may have created an incentive for establishments to inhumanely attempt to force these animals to rise.”
The agency’s inspection records show plant workers in recent years have kicked, shocked and dragged downed pigs in an effort to get them to stand upright. Mobilizing pigs, even for a few minutes, means the animal can be rendered fit for slaughter and be turned into pork products shipped to grocery stores and restaurants.
The USDA declined an interview request and did not answer written questions, saying the agency could not comment because there is pending litigation on the matter.
The industry estimates that about 500,000 pigs unable to walk or stand arrive at pork plants each year. The animal welfare groups cite industry-sponsored research that places the number closer to 1 million. It’s unclear how many of those downed pigs are removed by inspectors and not slaughtered.
The number of downed pigs represents a tiny fraction of the 124 million market hogs that are slaughtered annually, but there is no way for consumers to know whether the pork they eat came from a downed pig.
When it comes to livestock, no other animal in the United States is slaughtered for food more often than pigs. Market hogs — 5 to 6 months old and uniform in size — represent about 75 percent of all slaughtered livestock, well behind cattle, which represents 39 percent, and goats and sheep that round out the remainder, industry records show. About one-quarter of U.S. pork is exported.
The National Pork Producers Council contends that most of the downed pigs are not sick and simply need time to rest. They suffer from stress, often during the journey from farms to pork plants, which can cause some to develop a condition known as fatigued hog syndrome. A similar malady does not exist for cattle.
“It’s a metabolic state. Recovery typically takes place within two hours, but they will fully recover,” said Daniel Kovich, the council’s assistant director of science and technology. Kovich said he could not say what percentage of downed pigs have the syndrome, but believes it is “the vast majority.”
Farm Sanctuary has previously attempted to get the USDA to adopt a slaughter ban for downed pigs. In 2014, it filed a petition with the agency, asking it to follow the course it had already taken with cattle…