Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Besides religious prohibition, there are several non-religious arguments against eating pork. A few of which are:

  1. Pigs and swine are so poisonous that you can hardly kill them with strychnine or other poisons.
  2. Swine and pigs have over a dozen parasites within them, eg tapeworms, flukes, worms, and trichinae. There is no safe temperature at which pork can be cooked to ensure that they will be killed
  3. The swine carries about 30 diseases which can be easily passed to humans

I would like to hear some scholarly verification regarding these points. Simple Yes-No-Yes will be enough, elaboration is welcome, though.

Thank You

share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

Pigs and swine are so poisonous that you can hardly kill them with strychnine or other poisons.

This is a non-sequitur. An animal being poisonous does not imply that it resists to poison, nor the reverse is true.

In any case, to the extent of my knowledge pigs do not produce any specific poison. Obviously, if you could provide a more specific claim, this could be tested a bit more in depth.

The second part, instead, is plain false. You can definitely kill a pig with strychnine.

Both the Merk veterinary manual and Diseases of swine, 9th edition report an oral lethal dose of 0.5-1 mg/kg.

For comparison, the CDC reports a probable lethal oral dose of 1.5-2 mg/kg for humans.

Swine and pigs have over a dozen parasites within them, eg tapeworms, flukes, worms, and trichinae.

Sure, pigs do have parasites. Chapter 55 of Diseases of swine is specifically on parasitic infections.

Now, do ALL pigs have them? The answer is no, some parasites are more common than other, and the amount of parasites depends on the health status of the farm.

For instance:

Northern Europe (Roepstorff et al. 1998)

In Denmark (DK), Finland (FIN), Iceland (I), Norway (N), and Sweden (S), 516 swine herds were randomly selected in 1986-1988. Individual faecal analyses (mean: 27.9 per herd) from eight age categories of swine showed that Ascaris suum, Oesophagostomum spp., Isospora suis, and Eimeria spp. were common, while Trichuris suis and Strongyloides ransomi-like eggs occurred sporadically. Large fatteners and gilts were most frequently infected with A. suum with maximum prevalences of 25-35% in DK, N and S, 13% in I and 5% in FIN. With the exception of the remarkably low A. suum prevalence rates in FIN, no clear national differences were observed. Oesophagostomum spp. were most prevalent in adult pigs in the southern regions (21-43% in DK and southern S), less common in the northern regions (4-17% adult pigs infected), and not recorded in I. I. suis was common in piglets in DK, I, and S (20-32%), while < 1% and 5% were infected in N and FIN, respectively. Eimeria spp. had the highest prevalences in adult pigs (max. 9%) without clear geographical differences. I. suis and Eimeria spp. were recorded for the first time in I, and I. suis for the first time in N.

USA (Gamble et al. 1999)

To determine Trichinella infection in a selected group of farm raised pigs, 4078 pigs from 156 farms in New England and New Jersey, employing various management styles, were selected based on feed type (grain, regulated waste, non-regulated waste).
[...]
A total of 15 seropositive pigs on 10 farms were identified, representing a prevalence rate of 0.37% and a herd prevalence rate of 6.4%. A total of nine seropositive pigs and one suspect pig from six farms were tested by digestion; four pigs (representing three farms) harbored Trichinella larvae at densities of 0.003-0.021 larvae per gram (LPG) of tissue; no larvae were found in six pigs.

China (Weng et al. 2005):

The prevalence of intestinal parasites was investigated in intensive pig farms in Guangdong Province, China between July 2000 and July 2002. Faecal samples from 3636 pigs (both sexes and five age groups) from 38 representative intensive pig farms employing different parasite control strategies were examined for the presence of helminth ova and protozoan oocysts, cysts and/or trophozoites using standard techniques. Of the 3636 pigs sampled, 209 (5.7%) were infected with Trichuris suis, 189 (5.2%) with Ascaris, 91 (2.5%) with Oesophagostomum spp., 905 (24.9%) with coccidia (Eimeria spp. and/or Isospora suis) and 1716 (47.2%) with Balantidium coli. These infected pigs were mainly from farms without a strategic anti-parasite treatment regime.

However, note that Boes et al. 2000 reports higher percentages.

The prevalence of helminths in pigs was investigated in five rural communities situated on the embankment of Dongting Lake in Zhiyang County, Hunan Province, People's Republic of China, in an area known to be endemic for Schistosoma japonicum. The helminth prevalences identified on the basis of faecal egg count analysis were: Oesophagostomum spp. (86.7%), Ascaris suum (36.7%), Metastrongylus spp. (25.8%), Strongyloides spp. (25.8%), Trichuris suis (15.8%), Globocephalus spp. (6.7%), Gnathostoma spp. (4.2%), Schistosoma japonicum (5.0%) and Fasciola spp. (1.3%).

Kenya (Nganga et al. 2008):

A total of 115 gastrointestinal tracts (GIT) from 61 growers and 54 adult pigs were examined between February 2005 and January 2006. Seventy eight (67.8%) had one or more helminth parasites, of which thirty six (31.3%) were mixed infection. Ten types of helminth parasites encountered in descending order of prevalence were, Oesophagostomum dentatum (39.1%), Trichuris suis (32.2%), Ascaris suum (28.7%), Oesophagostomum quadrispinulatum (14.8%), Trichostrongylus colubriformis (10.4%), Trichostrongylus axei (4.3%), Strongyloides ransomi (4.3%), Hyostrongylus rubidus (1.7%), Ascarops strongylina (1.7%) and Physocephalus sexalutus (0.9%).


There is no safe temperature at which pork can be cooked to ensure that they will be killed

False. Proper cooking, as well as freezing (but see below) are effective in killing worms.

The CDC suggest:

The best way to prevent trichinellosis is to cook meat to safe temperatures. A food thermometer should be used to measure the internal temperature of cooked meat. Do not sample meat until it is cooked. USDA recommends the following for meat preparation.

For Whole Cuts of Meat (excluding poultry and wild game)
Cook to at least 145° F (63° C) as measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allow the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or consuming.
For Ground Meat (excluding poultry and wild game)
Cook to at least 160° F (71° C); ground meats do not require a rest time.

Also

Curing (salting), drying, smoking, or microwaving meat alone does not consistently kill infective worms; homemade jerky and sausage were the cause of many cases of trichinellosis reported to CDC in recent years.
Freeze pork less than 6 inches thick for 20 days at 5°F (-15°C) to kill any worms.
Freezing wild game meats, unlike freezing pork products, may not effectively kill all worms because some worm species that infect wild game animals are freeze-resistant.
Clean meat grinders thoroughly after each use.


The swine carries about 30 diseases which can be easily passed to humans

Again, sure pigs can carry diseases that can be passed to humans, but proper storing and cooking of meat is effective in getting rid of the great majority of bacteria.

Finally in 2012 Public health England reported food poisoning caused by red meat as accounting for 17% of all food poisoning incidents, with pork accounting for 3%. By comparison, poultry accounted for 29% of food poisoning events (although people eat more poultry than red meat).

Similarly, the CDC report on the Attribution of Foodborn Illness (1998-2008) puts red meat accounting for 12%, pork as accounting for 5.4% and poultry 9.8%.

share|improve this answer
    
Just a summarizing note: The primary reason to be careful with pork is for tapeworm- Taenia solium. Most pathological form of the disease is neurocysticercosis (mostly because it is difficult to cure compared to gut infection). –  WYSIWYG Jul 28 at 6:28
    
@WYSIWYG: good point. Taenia can be quite problematic especially in poor countries where it is more prevalent. –  nico Jul 28 at 6:55
    
@nico ... thanks. you may find more here. as you said: if you could provide a more specific claim... i would like to add: Farmers will often pen up pigs within a rattlesnake nest because the pigs will eat the snakes, and if bitten they will not be harmed by the venom –  MAKZ Jul 28 at 17:01

First: There is no biological reason to not eat pork. These bans (Jewish and Islamic) are based on religious rules, so this is more a cultural, not so much a biological answer.

The reasoning that pork meat would deteriorate pretty fast in warm climates is true, but it is also true for all other sorts of meat (like cattle, goat or sheep). Besides cultural reasons (think of India, where cows are holy) there is another reason according to the antrologist Marvin Harris.

He says in his book "The Sacred Crow and the Abominable Pigs" (you can find a chapter on pigs here and another interesting article on that topic here) that feeding habits are important, too. While goats, cows and sheep can be fed a grass only diet, this is not possible for pigs. They need a grain-based diet (where they compete with the humans for the food) or at least rich woods to survive. As these were depleted by the humans in the middle east, pigs couldn't be held sustainable.

share|improve this answer
2  
Joseph Campbell also points out that pigs are across many cultures very strongly associated with mother deities. So it would make sense that the Jews, with their strong rejection of female deities, would deem the animals most closely associated with them to be off-limits. Also remember Cain and Abel. The God of the Bible just doesn't much like farmers, he prefers herders. Farmers keep pigs, not herders. –  swbarnes2 Jul 26 at 18:20

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.