Ban burning and burying of animals in US Covid-19 farm culls, NGOs urge

As coronavirus forces many farmers to cull their animals on-farm, burying animals in unlined pits or burning them in open air pyres could pose risk to the public, activists argue


Sophie Kevany, The Guardian (UK)

30 Jun 2020


As the row over mass animal cullings in the US continues, public and environmental health NGOs are asking the government to ban two livestock carcass disposal methods – burying in unlined pits and burning in open air pyres – until the Covid-19 pandemic is “resolved”.


Risks to the public from the methods, say the groups, include increased air pollutants such as carcinogenic compounds, or bacterial and fecal matter leaking into local water ways.


The coronavirus crisis has hit the US’s largest slaughterhouses particularly hard. As a result, there is a lack of slaughter capacity, and farmers are being forced to cull their animals on-farm.


About 10 million hens have already been killed and the pork industry warned in May that 10 million pigs could die by September.


More recent estimates, said Iowa Pork Producers Association spokesperson Dal Grooms, suggest the pig figure is far too high, however.


“Right now, one analyst says 2.1 million hogs have ‘disappeared,’” Grooms said. “We know those all weren’t euthanised, because we heard countless stories from across the US where pork producers were working on innovative ways to keep pigs in the food supply, including donations to food banks and private sales to individuals who wanted to have that closer connection to their food.”


Jim Monroe, the spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), called the petition, filed with the US Department of Agriculture and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), on 29 June by NGOs including Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “an attempt by anti-livestock agriculture activist groups to use an unprecedented crisis to pile on hard-working farmers during a very challenging time”.


Monroe said: “Pork producers follow all appropriate human health and environmental protocols for safe disposal and have been working with federal and state authorities to address this crisis since it started.”


He added that the NPPC was “not aware of any incinerations of depopulated animals”. Rather, he said: “Some estimate that up to 1 million market hogs have gone into rendering [for fat, livestock feed or pet food], which would be a significant proportion of depopulated animals.”


The NGOs fear that “under-regulated and poorly monitored animal disposal during the pandemic” will create serious public health risks. Where animals are incinerated on farms, “on-site incineration by pyre” risks exacerbating the air pollution, which is “a factor linked to higher Covid-19 death rates.”


Pollutants emitted during open air incineration, it said, include “carcinogenic compounds associated with reproductive, developmental, and immune system problems”.


For unlined burials, where there is no barrier between animal carcasses and the soil, “there are health risks from bacteria and fecal matter leaking into the water table,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.


To make it easy for people to find out if carcasses are buried or burned near homes or water supplies, the petition asks APHIS to create an “electronically searchable and sortable database”.


Culling methods prior to disposal are another problem...


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