Panicked Australian & American pig producers push for the perfect poison to protect their investments
Yellow phosphorus, cyanide gas, & Compound 1080 already flunked
BRISBANE, Queensland, Australia-Japanese encephalitis, a potentially deadly disease spread by mosquitoes who lay their eggs in pig effluent, with onset symptoms resembling rabies in severe cases, “has been found for the first time in feral pigs in far north Queensland,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on July 21, 2022.
“The discovery of the mosquito-borne disease follows an outbreak across four states that is linked to the deaths of five people so far this year,” the news report added.
Biosecurity Queensland Tropical Public Health Unit director Richard Gair sought to quell public panic, explaining that Japanese encephalitis had not been found in humans.
The Skardon River area in western Cape York Peninsula, where the infected pigs were found, is isolated, “and the mosquito numbers are very low,” Gair explained.
“It is only quite rarely that humans will get the disease, and if they do get it, they are not infectious,” Gair said. “Most human infections of Japanese encephalitis cause no symptoms or mild symptoms, such as headache or fever.”
However, Gair acknowledged, “A person with severe disease may present with inflammation of the brain, characterized by sudden onset of vomiting, high fever and chills, severe headache, sensitivity to light, neck stiffness, and nausea and vomiting.”
Disease becomes latest pretext to persecute pigs
Japanese encephalitis joined leptospirosis, tuberculosis, and brucellosis as potential public health threats allegedly spread by feral pigs in Queensland, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory.
African swine fever, raging throughout Europe and Asia since 2014, has not reached Australia yet, but fear among pig farmers that it will come and will be spread by feral pigs had already escalated pressure on Australian state governments to kill a feral pig population often improbably claimed to number 24 million.
(See Will African swine fever make China vegan?)
U.S. pig farmers fret over Queensland poison ban
The U.S., with about a third more potential pig habitat than Australia, is officially believed to host approximately six million feral pigs.
The Australian pig industry consists of 1,134 farms sending about 2.3 million pigs per year to slaughter. The U.S. pig industry includes 60,000 farms, sending 121 million pigs per year to slaughter.
As concerned as Australian pig producers are about diseases that might be spread by feral pigs, U.S. producers may be even more anxious, to the verge of panic-especially after killing more than a million pigs by “ventilation shutdown” due to slaughterhouse backlogs caused by COVID-19 in early 2020.
(See Iowa belongs to Boss Hogg now. The stench? That’s money.)
“Growing gap in options”
Warned the Jennifer Shike of the U.S. Farm Journal online periodical PorkBusiness.com on July 13, 2022, “Readily available poisons used to control feral pig numbers could soon be banned in Queensland. The state government announced a plan this month to amend the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 to ban the use of poisons that included carbon disulphide and phosphorus, marketed as CSSP, [the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program] Rural News reports.
“Large amounts of CSSP can cause pigs to die within six or 12 hours,” Shike said. “But if the dose is lower, animals could survive for days or even up to three weeks before death.”
On the other hand, “Losing access to CSSP creates a growing gap in options for controlling feral pig numbers,” Shike alleged.
Replacing yellow phosphorous with Hoggone
What is actually occurring in Queensland is that the state government is trying to replace use of CSSP, a pig-killing pesticide based on yellow phosphorus, banned in the U.S. since 1998, and already banned in most of the rest of Australia, with a new pig-killing pesticide called Hoggone, believed to be more humane.
A three-year trial of Hoggone aimed at eradicating feral pigs from Kangaroo Island began in July 2021.
Hoggone appears to be much less cruel than yellow phosphorous. Hoggone might also be far faster than ventilation shutdown for killing whole barns full of domestic pigs, whether for disease control or simply for economic reasons, as in the COVID-19 response.
Field trial for U.S. use
Hoggone use in Australia, where it is touted as “about to gain regulatory approval for use in the United States,” is more-or-less a field trial for U.S. use.
But Hoggone is not yet cleared for application in the U.S., where small-scale trials of sodium nitrite, the lethal ingredient, have been underway since 2013.
The trials have so far led to multiple reformulations of the product and changes in the application technique.
Even in Australia, Hoggone has been deployed against feral pigs only since January 2021.
Explained Tim Lee of the Australian Broadcasting Company program Landline on July 24, 2021, “The bait targets feral pigs by exploiting a physical weakness in the pig’s physiology. Pigs lack a protective enzyme to break down sodium nitrite, a kind of salt used to preserve food.
“Eating it makes them susceptible to a condition called methemoglobinemia, which shuts down the function of their red blood cells, with fatal results,” Lee said.
Linton Staples, founder of Animal Control Technologies Australia, the company that makes Hoggone, asserted that feral pigs “take a mouth full or two of bait and say, ‘Oh that’s making me feel a bit woozy’, walk away to sort of snooze it off, and while they’re sleeping it off, they just go into a deeper and deeper slumber and die.”
“Zero off-target kills” – if you don’t count birds & raccoons
Matt Korecz, coordinating the Kangaroo Island pig extermination effort, insisted to Landline reporter Kerry Staight soon after the program stated that, “So far we’ve had zero off-target kills from our poisoning program.”
Kurt VerCauteren, who is among the researchers testing Hoggone in the U.S., told U.S. science writer Stephen Ornes that the effects of Hoggone resemble those of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“When a hog eats sodium nitrite,” wrote Ornes, “the salt triggers a condition called methemoglobinemia, which means red blood cells stop delivering oxygen to tissues. Inside the body, the blood darkens. The animal stumbles.”
“They suffocate from the inside,” VerCauteren told Ornes. “They get lethargic and lie down and go to sleep. It puts them in a coma and they don’t wake up.”
But Ornes, investigating Hoggone for Mother Jones in May 2021, recalled how VerCauteren and team in a 2018 sodium nitrite trial accidentally poisoned more than 170 birds and eight raccoons.
No pig poisons currently legal in U.S.
A 2020 trial in Texas comparably killed birds, Ornes wrote, “mostly dark-eyed juncos, but also a smattering of white-crowned sparrows,” who ingested crumbs of sodium nitrite-laced bait left by the targeted pigs so small that they could barely be seen.
“There are currently no poisons that can be legally used in the United States against wild hogs,” Ornes observed.
“There have been many candidates over the years,” Ornes recounted. “Sodium fluoroacetate, an odorless salt used in New Zealand and a handful of other countries,” better known as Compound 1080, “has no antidote and kills an animal by interrupting the animal’s metabolism. But scavengers who eat poisoned carcasses may die, too. The United States banned widespread use of [Compound 1080] in 1972 after people raised concerns about its humaneness and the high probability of accidental poisoning.”
(See Rare Aussie animals save themselves, no thanks to Compound 1080.)
Trump administration authorized cyanide
“Other options include yellow phosphorus,” Ornes continued, “but the amount that would be required to kill a 200-pound hog makes it untenable,” a concern clearly not shared by Australian and American pig farmers.
“In August 2019,” Ornes remembered, “the Donald Trump administration reauthorized the use of cyanide bombs—small contraptions that release clouds of deadly poison when triggered by an animal—but a week later the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that of the more than 20,000 public comments it received, nearly all opposed the bombs and withdrew its support.
“The following December, the EPA re-reauthorized limited use of the deadly tool for controlling coyotes, red fox, gray fox, and wild dogs believed to threaten livestock or human health, but the poison is not permitted against feral hogs.
“At the moment, “ Ornes summarized, “there are two main toxicants under intense study in the U.S., and [USDA Wildlife Services] has made getting a product on the market a priority. One is warfarin, a blood thinner that was one of the first registered rodenticides in the U.S and is still found in rat traps today. A warfarin-based product was briefly approved under an emergency order for use against feral hogs in Texas before a judge blocked it and the manufacturer rescinded its application.”
The other is sodium nitrite.
Introducing either Hoggone or any other feral pig poison to the U.S., meanwhile, will run afoul of an increasingly strong lobby of recreational pig hunters.
Pig hunters fight regulation
Outdoor Life in May 2022 targeted for defeat California SB 856, by state senator Bill Dodd, which would have regulated feral pig hunting by designating feral pigs an “exotic game mammal.”
SB 856 would discourage hunters from contributing to feral pig proliferation by prohibiting “intentionally or knowingly releasing any hog, boar, pig, or swine to live in a wild or feral state upon public or private land.”
SB 856 would also “prohibit a person from engaging in, sponsoring, or assisting in the operation of a contained hunting preserve, as defined, of wild pig, feral pig, European wild boar, or domestic swine within this state.”
Hunters object to having to work for kills
As a concession to hunters, SB 856 would also prohibit the use of poison to take “exotic game mammals,” as feral pigs would become.
This would make recreational hunting the officially preferred method of killing feral pigs in California, but would also ensure that pig hunters would have to work for their kills, instead of being allowed to just shoot pigs in a pen.
As to whether feral pigs are really an ecological threat in either the U.S. or Australia, history suggests that the southern U.S. and California have had feral pigs for nearly 500 and nearly 300 years, respectively, and parts of Australia have had feral pigs for more than 200 years.
No one fretted about the pigs’ presence until after the late 20th century introduction of factory pig farming put millions of dollars invested in raising stressed, mass-produced, genetically identical pigs at risk from diseases their hardier free-roaming forebears mostly survive, and could not spread very far if they did not.