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Animal Outlook, alongside six other animal protection groups, sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today for failing to protect pigs who are too sick or injured to walk at slaughterhouses, posing serious risks to animals and food safety.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Rochester, New York, challenges the USDA’s failure to follow Congress’s longstanding mandates regarding these “downed” or “non-ambulatory” animals, as well as its recent denial of a petition to ban their slaughter. Animal Outlook is joined as plaintiff by Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, Compassion in World Farming, Farm Forward, and Mercy For Animals. They are represented by the Animal Law Litigation Clinic at the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School.
Every year, well over half a million pigs arrive at U.S. slaughterhouses too sick or injured to stand or walk. These animals are often kept in holding pens where they are unable to rise from feces-ridden floors before being slaughtered. Downed pigs are at heightened risk of carrying a host of human-transmissible pathogens, including Listeria, Campylobacter, Salmonella, swine flu and Yersinia. They are also at a heightened risk of inhumane handling, including being excessively electro-shocked, prodded, kicked, shoved and dragged by workers attempting to force them to move.
In 2015, an Animal Outlook investigation at a Hormel supplier in Minnesota revealed egregious acts of cruelty committed against “downed” pigs who were unable to walk. Our investigator witnessed these pigs being brutally dragged to the slaughter line with metal hooks in their mouths, beaten with paddles, and repeatedly shocked with electric prods to force them to slaughter.
No Indication That The USDA Has Ever Reported on Non-Ambulatory Pigs Despite Congressional Direction
In 2002, Congress amended the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—which governs not just the slaughter of animals but also their handling at the slaughterhouse—to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to investigate and report to Congress on a host of issues related to non-ambulatory livestock, including humane handling, and, based on this report, to promulgate any regulations needed to protect these animals. Despite the passage of nearly two decades, there is no indication that the USDA has ever reported on non-ambulatory pigs, even though pigs comprise approximately 75 percent of livestock slaughter in the U.S.
This litigation represents an important step in the recognition of basic humanity toward the sickest and most injured pigs in the pork industry. No compassionate society should deny these suffering animals protection against the last torturous dragging or abuse in their final moments, merely to get them into the slaughter line so they can be sold.