Multistate health alert is issued warning about missing Md. pigs

October 06, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

Maryland agriculture officials have issued a health alert to nearly a dozen states - from Indiana to Georgia - warning local agencies about pigs that are missing from a western Carroll County farm under state quarantine.

"Testing of some of the swine on the farm (and escaped pigs captured just outside the farm) were positive for several diseases of human health importance," including trichinosis and toxoplasmosis, officials wrote in a letter dated Sept. 29 and addressed to state veterinarians in Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey.

"All the pigs on the farm (approximately 102) are now missing," officials wrote. "We would appreciate it if you could make inquiries to livestock market operators in your state to determine if they may have received a consignment of pigs from Maryland sometime after September 18."

A spokesman with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service said yesterday that consumers shouldn't be worried about pork products on the market, but should exercise basic sanitary practices, such as thoroughly cooking raw meat.

"Trichinosis is a very, very rare thing in America now," said Steven Cohen, a spokesman with the federal agency. "I don't want to alarm people, but it is a good thing to remember [to thoroughly cook meat] to eliminate foodborne pathogens."

No human trichinosis cases have been reported in Maryland for more than five years, said state agriculture officials. About a dozen cases are reported each year nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Five of the pigs trapped this summer outside the farm in Marston tested positive for trichinosis, a potentially fatal disease caused by a parasitic worm. Nine of the pigs had toxoplasmosis, a more common parasite sometimes contracted from ingested cat feces, according to the CDC. An additional pig that was confiscated from the farm tested negative for trichinosis and toxoplasmosis.

Maryland agriculture officials said in last week's letter that the quarantine was imposed because the farm's owner, Carroll L. Schisler Sr., was feeding raw garbage and meat scraps to the swine.

The farm has been under quarantine since the spring, when a pig taken from the property by state inspectors was found to carry trichinosis. The quarantine forbids pigs, dead or alive, from being brought onto or taken off the property.

Federal prosecutors pointed to public health concerns that the missing pigs might be illegally slaughtered when they requested - and were granted - an emergency court hearing with the farm's operators this week.

Cohen, of the USDA, said that swine as large as some of Schisler's pigs generally are not taken for commercial slaughter. State agriculture officials have said that some of the missing pigs weighed as much as 600 pounds.

"Typically, market hogs taken to slaughter are uniform in breed and size - weighing about 260 pounds," he said.

Schisler Sr., who owns the 112-acre farm, and his son, Carroll Jr., 34, who manages it, appeared this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to respond to allegations that they might be connected to the pigs' disappearance. The two are facing dozens of charges ranging from animal cruelty to selling contaminated meat.

The Schislers testified that the pigs had been gathered in a hog lot Sept. 17 and 18 and they last saw the animals Sept. 24.

State agriculture officials cautioned consumers this week to thoroughly cook pork to 160 degrees for at least 15 seconds - stuffings and stuffed meat should be heated throughout to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees for at least 15 seconds - with no interruption to the cooking process. "To exercise extreme caution," state agriculture and health officials suggested consumers might want to cook pork to 170 degrees.

"If people follow these procedures, the pork is safe to eat," said John Hammond, a spokesman with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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