Coronavirus: Washington seeing influx of out-of-state pigs

Midwest farmers hit hard as meatpacking plants close due to pandemic

Why officials are concerned as influx of pigs come into state

WASHINGTON — Washington is seeing an influx of out-of-state pigs coming into the state.

It’s another consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Farmers in the Midwest have been hit hard. Closures at meatpacking plants have left them with nowhere to process their pigs. Some farmers are making the heartbreaking decision to euthanize them.

Some of those pigs are showing up in Washington state.

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“We’ve had reports of pigs being sold out of semi -loads, backs of semi-trucks, empty parking lots across the state,” said Dr. Amber Itle, the assistant state veterinarian for the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

In the last six weeks, there have been more than 4,000 pigs imported into the state legally. Itle also knows there are other pigs the state can’t track. She has serious concerns about this new swine population, which could carry diseases that don’t exist in the state. Washington’s swine industry is relatively small with about 17,000 pigs statewide.

Itle said the pigs are being sold on sites like Craigslist. KIRO 7 found several listings on the website for both butcher -ready hogs and for weaner pigs, which are pigs that have been weaned from their mother.

“They’re being sold as they make their way across the state. So we are very concerned about that because from an animal disease traceability perspective, we have no idea where those pigs are really ending up,” Itle said.

The pigs are genetically bred for fast growth to enter the commercial food supply and Itle warned they are not meant for the pasture.

Itle said the pigs are going to novice “backyard” farmers.

More are coming butcher -ready and Itle said the state doesn’t have the slaughter capacity, which could lead to people trying to do it themselves.

Itle isn’t trying to bust anyone. She understands the current environment brought on by the pandemic. With concerns of a meat shortage, stores are limiting how much meat you can buy. Families are struggling to put food on the table and they’re lining up for food box distributions like the one at Northgate Mall on Monday.

“I think a lot of people have good intentions here. They’re concerned about food security and food supply in the next six months. And they even be concerned about the welfare of those pigs,” Itle added.

But she wants to educate folks and let them know buying these out-of-state pigs may not be the best solution.

“We could threaten our own industry here if we bring out-of-state animals that aren’t properly vetted. And if they come in with disease, we could introduce new threats to our own industry here. We want to protect our own food security and supply in Washington state,” Itle added.