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Fact check: Pigs aren’t poisonous

Posts on Facebook claim that pigs are “poisonous”, that they are difficult to kill with strychnine or other poisons, that they harbor over a dozen parasites, and that “there is no safe temperature at which pork can be cooked” to ensure that such parasites will be killed. This claim is largely false.

Crossbreeds of duroc and saddle pigs are pictured at the outdoor organic farm of pig farmer Anja Koch, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bad Belzig, south of Berlin, Germany, July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Examples of these posts can be found here , here , and here .  

The posts show a screenshot of a Google search for “can pigs be poisoned” with a response from “Biology Stack Exchange,” part of a network of crowdsourced question-and-answer websites (  stackexchange.com/about  ). The six-year-old thread can be found here .  

On July 26, 2014, the creator of the thread asked other Stack Exchange users for “scholarly verification” on “several non-religious arguments against eating pork.” These “arguments” included “Pigs and swine are so poisonous that you can hardly kill them with strychnine or other poisons,” “Swine and pigs have over a dozen parasites within them, e.g. tapeworms, flukes, worms, and trichinae,” and “There is no safe temperature at which pork can be cooked to ensure that they will be killed.”

ARE PIGS POISONOUS? CAN PORK BE COOKED SAFELY?

According to the World Organization for Animal Health, parasites associated with pork and pork products include Trichinella spiralis, Taenia solium and Toxoplasma gondii  (  www.oie.int/doc/ged/d9157.pdf  ). However, the organization says that “all three parasites are inactivated by various methods of cooking, freezing and curing.” 

“Good production practices, including a high level of sanitation, rodent and cat control on farms, can prevent opportunities for exposure of pigs to these parasites,” the paper adds. “Alternatively, meat inspection, proper commercial processing and adherence to guidelines for in-home preparation of meat are effective methods for reduction of risks for human exposure.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, trichinosis is a type of roundworm infection that can result from eating domestic pigs and wild boars hosting these parasites (  here  ). The clinic says the infection is acquired by eating roundworm larvae in raw or undercooked meat, and that it is most widespread in rural areas throughout the world. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that in order to eat pork safely, one should cook “all raw pork steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 °C) as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Ground pork should be cooked to 160°F (71.1 °C)” (  here  ). 

More information on parasites that can be found in pork is available here  and  www.pig333.com/pig-diseases/ . 

The Guardian published advice on cooking pork safely here .  

CAN PIGS BE POISONED?

The claim that pigs are difficult to poison is false. Several websites catering to pig owners mention common causes and symptoms of poisoning in pigs, from mycotoxins to salt poisoning to plants. The Pig Site, for example, says that mycotoxins, toxic compounds made by certain types of molds, “are one of the most common forms of poisoning” for pigs (  here  ).  

According to Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, particularly harmful mycotoxins include Deoxynivalenol, or vomitoxin, which harms the pig’s immune system (  here , here , here ,  ). 

Plant poisoning is rarer in pigs because, unlike cows or sheep, they are non-grazing animals. According to the website Veterian Key, plants found to be poisonous to pigs include cuckoo-pint, boxwood, hemlock, spurge olive, stinking iris root, tomato shoots and stems, tobacco, water dropwort, and rhubarb (  here  ). The Animal Sanctuary Project, a digital guide for people operating animal sanctuaries, provides a list of other things that are toxic to pigs, including pesticides, herbicides, algae, lead, snakebites, sudden ingestion of too much salt, selenium, and ingredients found in wood stains and paints (  here  ). 

Strychnine, a compound found in pesticides, is highly toxic to most animals, including pigs. The median lethal dose for dogs, cattle, horses, and pigs is 0.5–1 milligrams per kilogram (  here  ). More information on strychnine, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can be found here .  

VERDICT

Partly false. Pigs can be poisoned and killed by strychnine, among many other substances. Pigs may harbor certain parasites but cooking pork to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F (62.8 °C) will kill the three main parasites associated with pigs.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here . 

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