The prospect of ‘depopulating’ the U.S. hog herd

The spread of Covid-19 has forced some meat-packing plants to close, while many others run at half speed. Nationwide, pork production has dropped by more than 20 percent over the last month, and industrial farmers find their barns filling up. Now, the “end for hundreds of thousands of pigs is likely to arrive in an orgy of waste that turns the stomachs of even the most pragmatic,” writes Elizabeth Royte, in FERN’s latest story. “Asked to describe how a farmer decides to ‘depopulate’ — the word of choice — a barn full of market-ready pigs, David Newman, a Missouri pig farmer and president of the National Pork Board, sighs heavily. ‘It’s a tremendously emotional time to be in the livestock business. We’re trying to be creative.’”

“It’s a biological system,” says Newman. “From sow and pig to nursery to growing and finishing, there’s an impact on the entire chain. Each backs up the others.”

“No farmer wants to lose the value of an animal she’s bred, raised, and cared for its entire life. Livestock operators invest massive amounts of time, capital and energy producing food for human consumption. Euthanasia, says Rachel Gantz, of the National Pork Producers Council, ‘is always a devastating last resort for any farmer.’ But it is happening now, and it will continue to happen as plants remain shuttered. Earlier this week, political leaders in Iowa told Vice President Mike Pence the closures may drive farmers across the nation to kill as many as 700,000 pigs a week.