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Where Do Pigs Go When They Die?

Pigs just before auction, hogs,
Chris Cioffi

North Carolina's pig industry is under assault. A new virus, that just arrived in America last spring is spreading through the pork population, causing as much as 2% of the herd to die. What's most alarming is how fast Porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED, takes hold.

"I mean you can go in and see a house that looks completely normal, running around, feeding everything. You can come back this afternoon and half the pigs are dead," said Dr. Tom Ray of the state veterinary office.

He says as many as half of the state's nine million pigs could be infected. They won't all die; Like in humans, diarrhea is much less problematic in adults than it is in the young. But thousands will. (Officials say the virus has no effect on humans)

So, when the animals do die, what happens to their bodies?

Option 1: Burial

This seems the most old fashioned, but with livestock there are some rules you need to follow when burying the pigs. You have to bury the animal at least three feet underground. And it can't be within 300 feet of any stream or flowing water. You have 24 hours to bury the pig, once you realize its dead.

However, this is time consuming, and also requires a lot of space, so there are ways of getting rid of the pig entirely.

Option 2: Rendering

Not what Photoshop does when you save an image. Basically, certain kinds of animals can be broken down into their component parts and used for other things - like lard, pet food, or cosmetic products. Dr. Ray of the state veterinary office said this is the ideal for most farmers, because you get the most out of your pig. (Read the Wikipedia article on rendering if you want to skip your next meal). This process has to be performed a licensed renderer, so don't get any ideas.

However, Ray says, because of the PED virus, most pigs carcasses aren't leaving their farms. The risk of spreading the virus is too great. Which leaves farmers with either burial, or option three...

Option 3: Incineration

Animals can be incinerated so long as it's done so completely. It's the method that's drawn the most ire over the years because it seems to be convenient, rather that the most useful method. It could also be irritating to neighbors if not done properly. It does, however, prevent the spread of disease.

There are other ways to legally get rid of animal remains (gasification, composting, even some landfills accept carcasses). Whatever the method, it's clear that this newest viruses is a serious problem for farmers - some could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in product. What remains to be seen is how strictly people adhere to the disposal requirements if they become overwhelmed with few resources.

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