Farm Sanctuary and six other animal protection groups have filed a lawsuit to make it illegal for pork plants to slaughter downed pigs and turn them into food for humans.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said he supports what the groups are trying to do and is working with other lawmakers 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 industry estimates that 500,000 pigs that are unable to walk or stand arrive at pork plants every year. It also claims that plant workers have kicked, shocked and dragged downed pigs to get them to stand upright.
However, the National Pork Producers Council argues that most downed pigs aren’t sick and just need time to rest. They’re under a lot of stress and can develop fatigued hog syndrome.
“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.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pork containing pathogens results in about 525,000 infections, 2,900 hospitalizations and 82 deaths every year.
Animal protection groups have been trying to stop the slaughter of downed livestock since 1986. This was after Farm Sanctuary founder Gen Baur rescued a sheep at a Pennsylvania stockyard that had been left for dead.
“Culturally, the agriculture industry is very resistant to hearing from animal protection organizations that are challenging their practices. There is a tendency to dig in,” Baur said.
Former congressman Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) said that he worries the USDA won’t take action until a threatening disease strikes pigs.
“We are not smart until a disaster happens, and then people become crazy concerned and take every precaution they should have taken in the first place,” he said.