Congresswoman Escobar Leads Letter Calling for Regulatory Protections for Downed Pigs

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 7, 2023) — Yesterday, Rep. Veronica Escobar (TX-16) led a bipartisan group of nine colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and Under Secretary for Food Safety José Emilio Esteban, urging implementation of regulatory protections for nonambulatory, or “downed,” pigs.

“As you are aware, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented regulations protecting nonambulatory adult cattle and banning them from slaughter in 2004, followed by calves in 2016,” the lawmakers wrote. “It cited food safety concerns as the primary reason, because downed animals are ‘more likely to harbor and transmit food-borne diseases.’ In 2014, seven organizations petitioned USDA to make a similar rule for nonambulatory pigs, which number between half a million to one million annually in the U.S.”

The lawmakers continued: “In addition to protecting the public from contaminated pork products, removing downed pigs from the food system will also reduce farm, slaughterhouse, and meatpacking workers’ risk of contact with zoonotic diseases. These workers already face serious workplace hazards, with reported rates of illness and injury higher than those in manufacturing overall. But to make matters worse, studies show that pig slaughter plant workers have a higher risk of infection from zoonotic pathogens, such as H1N1 and MRSA. Humans have little to no immunity against the common flu viruses that spread among pigs, as exemplified by the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, which is thought to have originated in pigs raised for food and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people in its first year.

“Additionally, both FSIS and USDA as a whole have pledged to adhere to the One Health approach, which acknowledges that ‘the health of animals, people and the environment are inextricably linked’ and hence aims to ‘attain optimal health for people, domestic farm and food animals, wildlife, plants and our environment.’ This cannot be achieved without a concerted effort to prevent the interspecies spread of disease by swiftly condemning and euthanizing downed pigs.”

The lawmakers concluded: “Congress has repeatedly stressed the need to better regulate the treatment of nonambulatory pigs over the past several decades. By implementing regulatory protections, we are ensuring the humane treatment of these animals and protecting public health. That is why we urge you to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of this issue concerning downed pigs in order to guarantee our food system is safe for everyone.”

The letter was signed by Reps. James McGovern (MA-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Christopher Smith (NJ-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), and Tony Cárdenas (CA-29).

The full text of the letter can be found here.