Inspector Files Sworn Statement in Support of Legal Challenge to Pig Slaughter Deregulation
April 16, 2020
Rochester, N.Y. — A new Trump administration rule that largely deregulates pig slaughter operations will increase fecal contamination; diseased pigs being allowed for human consumption; toenails, hair and abscesses allowed into meat; and animal mistreatment, according to a new sworn statement by a federal slaughterhouse inspector.
The statement was filed in federal court late last Friday, April 10, in support of a lawsuit brought by seven animal and environmental protection organizations to challenge a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule, and comes as slaughterhouses across the country shutter due to COVID-19 outbreaks, including Smithfield Foods’ Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant that is slated to increase line speeds and reduce federal oversight under the challenged rule. The inspector, Jill Mauer, works inside Quality Pork Processors, a large Minnesota slaughterhouse that has served as a model for the USDA’s controversial move to reduce oversight of pig slaughter nationwide.
In December, the Animal Law Litigation Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School filed a lawsuit challenging the rule in federal district court for the Western District of New York in Rochester. The plaintiffs are Farm Sanctuary, Animal Equality, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Outlook, Center for Biological Diversity, Mercy For Animals, and North Carolina Farmed Animal Save. The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School serve as co-counsel in the case.
The USDA recently asked the court to dismiss the challenge, arguing that the rule’s harms are speculative—even though the agency itself determined that slaughterhouses responsible for 93% of pigs killed for food in the United States will take advantage of the rule, and will slaughter about 11.5 million more pigs annually.
In response, the plaintiffs on Friday fired back with a legal brief detailing why these harms are imminent. The brief was supported by a declaration from veteran USDA inspector Jill Mauer, which was obtained with the help of the whistleblower advocacy organization Government Accountability Project Food Integrity Campaign.
Mauer, who has worked under both the traditional inspection system and the deregulated system notes that under the deregulated system:
- Line speed increases consistently resulted in a greater number of hogs slaughtered daily and annually.
- Citations for fecal contamination have increased, exacerbating food safety concerns.
- Defects including toenails, hair, and abscesses are routinely allowed in meat intended for human consumption.
- Diseased pigs, including those with conditions that can trigger serious health problems in humans, have been allowed for human consumption.
- She has regularly observed pigs who were “driven to move faster than a normal walking speed, workers who have raised their paddles over their heads to strike the hogs, hogs vocalizing (a sign of stress) while moving, and heavy crowding of hogs.”
- She has seen an increase in pig carcasses with scalding tank water in their lungs—an indication that they may have still been breathing when dropped in the tank.
The concerns set forth in her statement go beyond those that she expressed when featured on NBC late last year.
As Delcianna Winders, who directs the Animal Law Litigation Clinic and, with her students, represents the plaintiffs, notes, “This inspector’s statement makes clear that this deregulatory rule sentences untold numbers of pigs to being beaten in an effort to keep pace with ever-increasing kill lines, and to have their throats slit and possibly even be boiled while still fully conscious. It also ensures that the number of potentially life-threatening pork products on the market will increase.”
“Ms. Mauer’s chilling observations of the increased harms to hogs and risks to human health drives home why this rule must be reversed,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity representing the plaintiffs. “Increasing slaughter line-speeds at these dangerous facilities will cause more animal suffering and pollution, degrade ecosystems, and speed the extinction crisis.”
Mauer’s attorney, Amanda Hitt of the Government Accountability Food Integrity campaign, added, “Jill is just the tip of the iceberg. Many more meat inspectors have reached out to my office echoing the same and more concerns about the new inspection system.”
The USDA has until April 24 to respond to this new filing.