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American hog farmers facing difficult decisions

With many of the nation’s major meat processing plants still closed or operating at reduced capacity, American hog farmers have been forced to make tough choices. Many plants are starting to come back online; however, facilities are operating at slower speeds to provide social distancing between employees. This has created a major backup in processing and hogs that would typically be sent to plants have nowhere to go.

Chicken and cattle farmers are also struggling with the backup at processing plants, but because of the tight time frame between when a pig is born and when it is ready for slaughter, some of the most drastic actions are occurring on these farms first. Once a hog is ready for slaughter, it cannot be easily held on farms. Hogs that are past six months after birth often grow too large for processing and most processing plants refuse to accept hogs larger than 300 pounds.

The Minnesota Pork Producers Association announced this week that an estimated 10,000 pigs are being euthanized every day in the state. Minnesota’s neighbor to the south, Iowa, is in the same position. An estimated 500,000 hogs in Iowa are backed up, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association. The National Pork Producers Council estimates at least 10 million hogs nationwide will need to be euthanized by September.

Jason Lusk, the head of the agricultural economics department at Purdue University told National Public Radio that he estimates there is currently a 40 percent reduction in meat processing capacity, which will lead to 200,000 pigs per day being left on their farms.

“That’s a million extra pigs that would have gone to market, but instead are staying on the farm, from just one week,” Lusk told NPR.

The United States Department of Agriculture is already setting up a center that can supply the tools needed to euthanize hogs, including captive bolt guns and cartridges that can be shot into the heads of larger animals.

Iowa officials have gone a step further and asked that federal aid include additional funding for mental health services that can be provided to farmers and the veterinarians who are helping them.

The situation has animal rights activists up in arms. On Tuesday, a large group of protesters gathered at a farm in Iowa. No one was injured, and the property was not damaged, but employees were taunted, harassed and videotaped during the euthanasia process according to Iowa Select Farms.

No farmer wants to euthanize an animal but considering the reduction in the processing capacity, it has become almost inevitable that farmers in the Midwest will have to consider this scenario.

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