A coalition of animal protection groups has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to require cameras for slaughterhouses that use carbon dioxide gas to stun and kill sentient pigs.

Approximately 90 percent of more than 130 million pigs killed in the United States each year are loaded into steel cages called gondolas and lowered into lakes of carbon dioxide gas, according to the rulemaking petition.

The petition, submitted to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service,  alleges that a lack of cameras in the gondola cages means that federal inspectors aren’t able to examine and inspect the pigs when they enter the toxic gas lakes — in alleged violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act — or ensure that the pigs are stunned and killed “quickly and calmly, with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals” — in alleged violation of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Comprehensive data about the number of slaughterhouses using carbon dioxide gas isn’t publicly available. But the petitioners identified at least 32 U.S. pig slaughterhouses using carbon dioxide gas, according to USDA enforcement records — with Iowa, Minnesota, California, and Illinois having the most facilities. 

Meanwhile, undercover investigations in United States by Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and in Australia have documented the pigs screaming, gasping, thrashing, and convulsing before they collapse as the toxic gas enters their lungs, according to news reports. 

The USDA is not allowed to take a “see no evil” position regarding the slaughter of pigs, said Gillian Lyons, the director of regulatory affairs for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which is one of the petitioners.

 “The agency has a duty to ensure each animal is stunned and slaughtered in accordance with the HMSA, and they obviously can’t do that if their inspectors are unable to observe this process,” Lyons said. 

Pigs in Gondola

Pigs Inside a Gondola (Courtesy of Direct Action Everywhere)

A spokesperson for the FSIS told Lady Freethinker that the agency received the petition and is in the process of reviewing it.

“FSIS is reviewing the petition and once the review is complete, the agency will publish the response on its website,” the spokesperson said.

The other petitioners include the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Compassion in World Farming, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and World Animal Protection.

“The USDA is failing to enforce the nation’s sole humane slaughter law for a large majority of the animals killed for food in our country,” said Zack Strong, senior attorney for AWI’s farmed animal program. “By granting our petition, the department will be able to determine if it has been missing a significant number of humane slaughter violations by not observing CO2 stunning.”

More than 100 U.S. veterinarians have signed a letter to the American Veterinary Medical Association citing their concerns about pigs’ reactions to being stunned and killed using carbon dioxide gas. 

Meanwhile, numerous countries — including England, Scotland, Spain, and Israel — require video monitoring by slaughterhouses that use carbon dioxide for stunning or slaughter.

Requiring cameras in these slaughter facilities would improve oversight and transparency in a crucial step toward protecting pigs from cruelty, said Lindsay Oliver, executive director for World Animal Protection.

 “The factory farming industry hides behind closed doors, preventing regulators and the public from seeing the suffering and pain inflicted on the animals,” Oliver said. “This petition will help shed some much-needed light on the harsh reality of pigs subjected to CO2 stunning and hold accountable any companies failing to comply with animal protection laws, limited as they may be.”

The petition has been referred to the Office of Policy and Program Development for review and was assigned petition No. 23-05, according to news reports.

If you haven’t already, please sign our petition urging authorities to ban the use of cruel gas chambers for sentient pigs!

SIGN: Ban the Gas Chamber for Pigs in the US!