USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service isn’t changing the way it deals with non-ambulatory disabled pigs.

An animal activist organization, Farm Sanctuary, had petitioned FSIS to have non-ambulatory disabled pigs (NADs) immediately condemned and “promptly euthanized.”

But in an eight-page response, FSIS officially denied the petition on Sept. 16.

FSIS said the Farm Sanctuary petition claims that quicking killing NAD pigs would “enhance food safety” and result in “more humane handling,” and would improve inspector efficiency at swine slaughter establishments.

Farm Sanctuary argued that NAD pigs are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella and other pathogens. Generally, that is because NAD pigs spend more time “in lairage” or on the way to market than fully healthy animals.

The petition contained examples of holding time outcomes.

”The petition asserts that NAD pigs are held longer than other pigs in lairage and exposed to more fecal matter because they are not able to rise from the holding pen floor,” says the decision letter.

Farm Sanctuary further claimed that antemortem condemnation of NAD pis is necessary to reduce the risk of product contamination.

In denying the petition, however, FSIS said there is no data to show a higher public health risk from NAD pigs that passed antemortem and post-mortem inspections when compared to ambulatory pigs.

Roberta F. Wagner, the assistant administrator for the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development, said the condemnation of NAD pigs is not warranted on account of food safety because safeguards are in place and effect.

Nor did Wagner agree with the Farm Sanctuary assertion that NAD pigs are more likely to carry swine flu, H1N1 and H3N2. “FSIS disagrees with the assertion that FSIS inspectors are unlikely to detect these diseases in NAD pigs,” she wrote. “Swine influenza is characterized by sudden onset, coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, and prostration — all of which are quite evident during the antemortem inspection, regardless of whether the animal is ambulatory or NAD, and affected animals are condemnable…”

Pigs, according to FSIS, often become non-ambulatory “because of a temporary metabolic condition characterized by profound fatigue.” The condition is “usually completely reversible” after the animals are cooled and rested.

Handling pigs to avoid and control stress are subjects that Colorado State University’s Temple Frandin has studied extensively. FSIS says that work supports the agency’s position that pigs should get time to recover before their suitability for slaughter is determined.

Farm Sanctuary is a 33-year-old organization providing shelter to farm animals at multiple sites around the country. It was originally funded with by the sales of vegetarian hot dogs at Grateful Dead concerts

In another petition ruling this week, FSIS agreed that generic approval for labels of bison products should be allowed under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946. Robert G. Hibbert, attorney for the bison producers, raised the issue in a petition on July 22, 2019.

FSIS said it “is currently preparing a proposed rule to expand its generic label approval program,” and the change Hibbert requested is included.

According to the latest Census of Agriculture with 2017 data released last April,  the bison population on American ranches and farms now stands at 183,780, which is a 13.3 percent increase since the 2012 census. The farm-gate value of bison and bison products sold in 2017 topped $120.1 million, which represented a 26.7 percent increase over 2012.

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