The deadline is looming, but there’s still time for pork producers to submit comments regarding USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service proposal to amend its slaughter inspection rule.

At issue is a petition originally submitted in 2010 by Farm Sanctuary, requesting that FSIS amend its inspection regulation to include all livestock in the ban on non-ambulatory animal slaughter. On Feb. 11, FSIS requested a public comment period to gain more insight before deciding on the petition. That comment period concludes on Friday, April 8.

The National Pork Producers Council is encouraging pork producers to take a few minutes to speak up and offer perspective. (For guidance on submitting a comment, go to http://nppc.org/issues/FSISRule.htm)

Farm Sanctuary, an animal rights group, contends that all non-ambulatory animals pose a risk to human health. The way the amendment is outlined, it would include what is known in the pork sector as “slow” or “exhausted” pigs, which are not ill, injured or diseased pigs.

These “slow” pigs account for less than 0.5 percent of all hogs marketed annually, points out Howard Hill, DVM, Iowa Select Farms and NPPC board member. “They develop a glycogen deficiency; they don’t have the energy and need a rest, but they can recover.” He adds that pigs with a longer trip to market (two hours or more) actually tend to produce fewer “slows” because the animals have time to lay down in the truck and rest.

In the video below below, Hill goes into further detail dicussing "slow" pigs:

Research shows that such pigs need only 20 to 30 minutes of rest to fully recover. “In fact there’s no ill effect on the meat at all,” Hill notes.

The amendment would place the slow pigs in the same category as other non-ambulatory animals, such as animals with broken legs or other diseases from which the animal cannot recover or may present health or food-safety concerns.

 While the number of slow pigs in the overall mix is extremely low, adding them to the non-ambulatory list would increase processors’ costs because the pigs would have to be handled differently and euthanized. Also, the carcasses would be destroyed, which would cost the producer, processor and ultimately the consumer as it would “be a waste of very good meat; there’s nothing wrong with the meat,” Hill says. It’s estimated that it would amount to 66 million pounds of pork.

For reasons that remain unclear, some seasons and weather conditions can increase the number of slow pigs. “They tend to increase in the fall for a couple of months,” Hill says. “We track those numbers closely in our company and we’ve done some work with Matt Ritter, with Elanco, on training and animal handling with our employees.” He notes that as a result Iowa Select has reduced the number of “slow or exhausted pigs down to 0.2 percent to 0.25 percent.”