Pigs not welcome at the Capitol

In an Oct. 23 letter to the animal-rights group obtained by The Hill, Capitol Police cited a recommendation from the D.C. Health Department and said it was rejecting PETA’s request “due to significant health concerns about the possible spread of the H1N1 virus.”

The letter also cited “nuisance concerns” with the plan by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to bring a group of pigs and gallons of swine urine and tons of manure to Capitol Hill.

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But the pig-contracted strain of the virus occurs rarely in humans and is not the same strain that is causing a pandemic, according to Carolyn Bridges, the associate director of science in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) influenza division.

The animal strain of swine flu is a respiratory disease found in pigs that can result in high levels of illness and can infect humans who are in close contact with the infected animals, such as in handlers who work in pig barns or livestock exhibits, according to the CDC.

Since its discovery in the early 20th century, the H1N1 virus has mutated into different strains. The strain that led President Barack Obama to declare a national health emergency is generally passed from person to person in much the same way that regular seasonal flu viruses spread.

Some pigs in Minnesota and Indiana have now caught H1N1 from humans.

“The pigs are the victims in this case,” said Bridges.

Capitol Police declined to comment on the decision to reject the petition because of swine flu.

PETA said it wanted to use giant fans to spread the smells from the animals and their waste across Capitol Hill as a way to draw attention to swine flu and the mistreatment of the animals.

The group said its aim was to emphasize the connection between the animal-borne strain of swine flu and the production of pork on pig farms. It also hoped that the exhibit would convince people to eat a vegan diet by showing them the conditions in which pigs are kept.

Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president, said she was disappointed by the Capitol Police decision.

“Apparently, it’s not safe to allow Congress members and lobbyists to breathe the noxious fumes emitted by factory farms, but for the millions of rural Americans whose water and air are poisoned by waste and pathogens from the meat industry, tough luck,” said Reiman.

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In its letter to PETA, the Capitol Police’s office of general counsel said it welcomed any future requests for demonstrations on Capitol Hill, “absent the inclusion of swine waste and live swine.”

According to Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, the department doesn’t have any such outstanding requests from the animal advocacy group.

PETA has made waves with earlier demonstrations. In July, the group sent two Playboy Playmates clad in bikinis fashioned out of lettuce to Capitol Hill, where they handed out vegan hot dogs.