Suing to Protect Nonambulatory Pigs
Farm Sanctuary v. Sonny Perdue
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the unlawful failure to protect “downed” or “non-ambulatory” pigs at slaughterhouses.
U.S. Department of Agriculture files response
On February 6, 2020, The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the unlawful failure to protect “downed” or “non-ambulatory” (unable to walk) pigs at slaughterhouses.
The lawsuit was filed with a coalition of animal protection organizations and argues the USDA has failed to fulfill its statutory duty by not instituting regulations prohibiting the slaughter of pigs who cannot walk or stand.
In 2002, Congress amended the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), instructing the USDA to investigate and report on non-ambulatory animals at slaughterhouses, including pigs — and, based on those findings, to promulgate regulations as needed to ensure their humane treatment, handling, and disposition.
The USDA subsequently promulgated regulations to prohibit the slaughter of non-ambulatory cows and calves, but failed to do so for pigs.
In 2014, the coalition petitioned for a regulation to prohibit the slaughter of non-ambulatory pigs. However, after more than five years of delay the USDA has still failed to issue the necessary guidelines. In failing to fulfill its statutory obligation, the USDA has violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
Who is being sued, why, and under what law? Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for failing to issue regulations to prohibit the slaughter of non-ambulatory pigs in violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
Why this case is important: Without regulations prohibiting the slaughter of non-ambulatory animals, pig producers are incentivized to send weakened animals to slaughter. Uncontroverted evidence shows food-safety and humane handling risks inherent in allowing the slaughter of these pigs.
Indeed, the coalition bringing this lawsuit has presented ample documentation shows downed pigs being kicked, shoved, electrocuted, and dragged by slaughterhouse workers attempting to get them to move, so they can be slaughtered. Some of this evidence has been documented by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a division of the USDA itself, and includes numerous incidents of downed pigs being trampled by other animals while crying out in pain and distress, a downed pig who squealed out in pain when a worker closed a grapple fork around her snout and hydraulically squeezed her head, and a downed pig whose leg became caught while workers were trying to move him — causing part of his hoof to become detached from the bone and tissue.
Farmed animals are among the most abused animals, routinely subject to cruelty but with few legal protections.