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Animal Protection Groups Sue USDA For Gutting Pig Slaughterhouse Rules

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Together with six other organizations, today Compassion Over Killing filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging its decision to reduce oversight at pig slaughterhouses and eliminate limits on slaughter speeds.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on behalf of Farm Sanctuary, Animal Equality, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, Compassion Over Killing, Mercy For Animals, and North Carolina Farmed Animal Save. Plaintiffs are represented by Lewis & Clark Law School’s new Animal Law Litigation Clinic (ALLC) at the Center for Animal Law Studies. The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School are serving as co-counsel in the case.

The lawsuit challenges the USDA’s complete revocation of limits on the number of pigs that can be slaughtered per hour. Previously, a slaughterhouse could kill up to 1,106 pigs an hour. High-speed slaughter is linked to increased humane handling violations, including failure to properly render pigs unconscious before they have their throats slit and are dropped into scalding tanks.

COK’s investigator witnessed this high-speed cruelty firsthand while undercover at a plant supplying to Hormel. As a pilot program preceding the nationwide rollout of the high-speed rule, this facility is a prime example of how the rule only makes pig slaughter more dangerous and barbaric.

The USDA’s decision to cut line-speeds will also lead to approximately 11.5 million more pigs being slaughtered annually at these massive industrial plants, according to USDA profit estimates for the rule.

“The slaughter of pigs for the pork industry is already a cruel, grueling, and fast process for both the animals and humans involved, who are treated as mere cogs in a money-making machine” says Cheryl Leahy, Executive Vice President of Compassion Over Killing. “Speeding up the slaughter lines and putting oversight in the hands of the industry means an even darker reality for millions of animals in their last moments of life and a reckless system for workers and the public.”

The lawsuit also challenges the USDA’s decision to remove and relocate federal inspectors in slaughterhouses. Federal law requires agency inspectors to ensure that animals at slaughterhouses are not subjected to cruel handling, including dragging and beating, and to ensure that sick animals don’t enter the food supply.

The USDA has long asserted that its inspections are the most effective way to protect against
disease epidemics that could devastate animal populations and threaten public health. Yet, at the same time the agency is preparing for the possibility of a disastrous outbreak of African swine fever—which is expected to decimate up to a quarter of the world’s pig population—it is replacing its front-line inspectors with untrained and overworked slaughterhouse staff.

Today’s lawsuit raises challenges to the USDA’s action under the Administrative Procedure Act, Federal Meat Inspection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The case is the first filed by the ALLC, the only law school clinic in the world dedicated to farmed animal advocacy.

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