Animal protection groups sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) earlier this month 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 department’s failure to follow Congress’ longstanding mandate to protect these “downed” or “non-ambulatory” animals, as well as the department’s recent denial of a petition to ban their slaughter. The plaintiffs are Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, 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 are estimated to arrive at U.S. slaughterhouses too sick or injured to stand or walk. These animals are often kept in holding pens, where they lie on feces-covered floors, unable to rise, before being slaughtered. Downed pigs are at a heightened risk of carrying a host of human-transmissible pathogens, including listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, yersinia, and swine flu. Such pigs are also more likely to experience abuse, including being electroshocked, prodded, kicked, shoved, and dragged by workers attempting to force them to move.
“Animals who are unable to walk or move on their own are at a higher risk of being abused at the slaughterhouse,” said Dena Jones, director of the farm animal program for the Animal Welfare Institute. “For this very reason, the USDA decided in 2016 to ban the slaughter of downer calves. Pigs deserve the same basic protections under the federal humane slaughter law.”
“The federal government continues to treat pigs as industrial commodities to be produced as cheaply as possible, without regard for animal welfare or consumer safety,” said Irene Au-Young, a student in the Animal Law Litigation Clinic, which is representing the plaintiffs. “The law doesn’t allow this total disregard, and this lawsuit will hold the government accountable for forcing sick and injured animals to the killing floor and onto the dinner plates of unsuspecting consumers.”
“The Department of Agriculture violates the very laws it is entrusted with enforcing by encouraging cruel and inhumane handling of weak and sick pigs,” said Hira Jaleel, the second Animal Law Litigation student representing the plaintiffs.
Featured image: a collapsed pig inside a factory farm. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality.