Animal Equality is Suing the USDA for Gutting Pig Slaughterhouse Oversight

Rochester, N.Y. — Seven organizations dedicated to protecting the animals, people, and environments that suffer due to industrial animal agriculture filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging its decision to reduce oversight at pig slaughterhouses and eliminate limits on the slaughter speeds, exposing pigs to greater suffering and flouting federal humane slaughter, meat inspection, and environmental protection laws. 

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.

“These sensitive, intelligent animals are already largely overlooked by the law, and now the USDA has effectively written out the little protections Congress extended to them,” said Delcianna Winders, Assistant Clinical Professor and Clinic Director of the ALLC. “This illegal regulation is a total abdication of the USDA’s statutory responsibilities to millions of pigs and must be overturned.”

“The Department of Agriculture is supposed to regulate the meat industry, but instead this regulation reads like a joint venture between big business and the federal government,” says Cristina Kladis, an ALLC student representing the plaintiff organizations.

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.

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.

“Congress has given the USDA clear instructions to provide for the humane handling of animals at the slaughterhouse,” said Sarah Hanneken, legal counsel for Animal Equality. “Yet, by reducing federal oversight and eliminating caps on line speeds, the USDA has unlawfully put pork industry profits above its statutory obligations.”

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

 “Slaughtering 11.5 million more pigs in these cruel plants will recklessly increase the already overwhelming amount of pollution generated by this dirty industry,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.  “It’s an immoral disgrace that this administration is so blatantly willing to trade environmental health and animal welfare for inflated corporate meatpacker profits.”

Today’s lawsuit challenges 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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