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Despite its assertion that it would not do so, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has begun conducting armed raids on heritage hog farmers, the first two over the weekend of April 14-16.
Dave Tuxbury of Deer Tracks Ranch killed all of his hogs on April 14 so that the DNR, which had served a search warrant, would not charge him as a felon. “It took 12 guys four times in there to kill all of them,” Tuxbury wrote Monday in an email. “Sows with young, pregnant sows, dozens of piglets and old mature boars.
“Does anyone know what it feels like to open fire on 20 baby piglets in one group? They (DNR agents) commented to everyone that they never saw a fence built so tough and no way would a hog get out of this area. …They never saw a fence like that.”
But even a super-tough fence wasn’t enough to prevent enforcement of the order that effectively put the Michigan heritage hog farmer out of business on Saturday.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed the DNR’s “invasive species order,” or ISO, in December 2011. The ISO went into effect April 1, and was enacted, the DNR said, to protect Michigan’s hog farms from diseases spread by so-called feral hogs, as well as protect landowners from damages caused by wild hogs.
You can read the ISO here. Its scariest sentence: "Other characteristics not currently known to the MDNR that are identified by the scientific community."
In other words, the Michigan DNR can seize your hogs by changing the rules whenever it wishes.
A couple of things smell fishy here.
First is that the DNR’s own website says that fewer than 700 wild hogs have been seen or killed in Michigan over the last 10 years. Officials of the Michigan Pork Producers Association (MPPA) confirm that there have been no reported cases of pseudorabies spreading from wild hogs to domestic ones.
The second concern is that the ISO outlaws swine on the basis of their phenotype – how they look – not on their genotype or their DNA. Virtually no kind of pig except the few breeds raised in CAFO hog farms can pass the nine phenotype descriptors laid out in the ISO — and virtually no heritage hog can pass it. The ISO says that such hogs are illegal, whether they are securely fenced in or not, and that farmers who keep them will be charged as felons. The ISO allows DNR officers to come onto a farm and kill the offending animals — and to do so without compensating the farmer whose stock they destroy.
The third fishy stinker is that the DNR is charged with managing wildlife — not farm animals.
There’s much more to the story. As attorney Pete Kennedy of the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund explains in this excellent post, the MPPA — which has a vested interest in eliminating competition from heritage hog farmers — helped draft and pushed for the ISO.
State Sen. Darwin Booher (R-35th District) is a good guy here. He has said that the DNR is acting outside its mission and has no business regulating farm animals.
Booher’s aide, Kara Butters, told me in a phone interview that the Michigan Pork Producers Association, specifically MPPA’s executive director Sam Hines and MPPA board member Harley Sietsema, have been shopping this legislation for several years, trying to find a state legislator to sponsor the law.
Unable to find anyone to do so, the pair then took the proposal to the DNR, which responded with the ISO. Sietsema’s High-Lean Pork owns 250 of Michigan’s 313 confined animal feeding operations, or CAFO, hog farms, most of which are “farrowing operations,” dedicated to providing young pigs to ship out of state to other hog farmers.
I spoke with Michigan farmer Mark Baker of Bakers Green Acres farm in Missaukee County and asked him how the ISO would affect his heritage Mangalitsa hogs, for which chefs around the country pay premium prices. The Mangalitsa is a Hungarian hog prized for its extremely high lard production. Baker raises about 75 Mangalitsas a year and feeds out 50 to sell to top chefs.
“They’re not going to take my pigs,” Baker, a U.S. military vet, said. “I am willing to be arrested.” Baker has filed suit against the DNR. Read more about Baker — and listen to some radio interviews with him —at his website.
Tempers are hot and getting hotter on this issue, and I fear bloodshed. Don’t be misled into believing that this is strictly a Michigan issue: Pennsylvania, Kansas and New York are all poised to pass similar legislation, according to several sources. If Michigan succeeds in destroying its heritage hogs, as well as the livelihood of its heritage hog farmers, you can be sure that other states will soon follow suit.
The DNR needs to put the guns away. Gov. Rick Snyder — said to be a great appreciator of local food, and especially the charcuterie made from some of Mark Baker’s Mangalitsa hogs — and Rodney Stokes, director of the DNR, need to rescind this ISO.
If you’d like to tell them so yourself, here’s how:
Governor Rick Snyder
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909
Rodney Stokes, Director
P.O. Box 30028
Lansing, MI 48909
Robin Mather is a senior associate editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and the author of The Feast Nearby, a collection of essays and recipes from her year of eating locally on $40 a week. In her spare time, she is a hand-spinner, knitter, weaver, homebrewer, cheese maker and avid cook who cures her own bacon. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
Photo: A Mangalitsa hog at the Franciscan Monastery gardens in Kadaň.