Small Farmers of Heritage-Breed Pigs Under Attack in Michigan

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Story at-a-glance -

  • On April 1, 2012, the Invasive Species Order (ISO), issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), went into effect
  • The ISO prohibits anyone in the state from possessing what MDNR defines as “invasive species of swine,” which can basically include any type of hog raised outside of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)
  • Any farmer or other individual found to be in possession of such a hog could be charged with a felony and subjected to up to two years in jail and a $20,000 fine
  • The ISO threatens farmer’s rights and may make sustainably raised pastured pork essentially illegal, and very hard to come by in the state
  • The ISO is not a law; rather, it’s an “action” or “order” that’s been taken by a state agency; as such, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has the authority to tell MDNR to rescind the ISO, and your help is needed to prompt this action

By Dr. Mercola

The vast majority of the nearly 66 million pigs raised for food in the United States are born and raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs),1 where they are subject to extreme mental and physical anguish, not to mention subject to incredibly unhealthy practices, like the administration of unnecessary low-dose antibiotics and living in their own waste.

Swine CAFOs are notorious not only for their ammonia emissions into the air, which have been called a public health threat linked to decreased lung function, cardiovascular ailments and premature death, but also for drinking water contamination from the massive amounts of animal waste generated.

It could be argued that swine CAFOs are one of the biggest public health nuisances around …

Ironically, the state of Michigan appears to be ambivalent to the damages being caused by giant swine CAFOs, and instead is choosing to target small farmers raising heritage-breed hogs, in humane, sanitary, outdoor conditions that nature intended.

These small farmers, they say, are raising "invasive species" of feral hogs – and they must be stopped at all costs …

Farmers Raising Pigs Outside of CAFOs Could Face Felony Charges, Jail Time, Large Fines

On April 1, 2012, the Invasive Species Order (ISO),2 issued by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), went into effect.

The ISO prohibits anyone in the state from possessing what they define as "invasive species of swine," which the state says are carriers of many parasites and disease, and a major source of damage to forests, agricultural lands and water resources. MDNR states that by the end of 2011, more than 340 feral swine had been spotted3 … but the ISO does not simply apply to these so-called rogue feral pigs running wild through the forests.

While the dictionary definition of "feral" refers to an animal running wild, Michigan authorities have taken it a step further and extended the definition to include enclosed private hunting preserves and small farms that are raising heritage-breed pigs.

There is no genetic test to determine whether the species on these farms are truly invasive, so authorities are basing their cases against these farmers solely on visual observations. MDNR uses this vague description to describe the prohibited hogs, and makes it clear that this does not apply to the domestic hogs raised on CAFOs:4

"Wild boar, wild hog, wild swine, feral pig, feral hog, feral swine, Old world swine, razorback, eurasian wild boar, Russian wild boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus). This subsection does not and is not intended to affect sus domestica involved in domestic hog production."

Other descriptions supplied by the MDNR include such a wide variety of characteristics that virtually any pig other than the familiar pink domestic breed raised on CAFOs could potentially be deemed "feral":

  • Erect or folded/floppy ear structure
  • Straight or curly tail
  • Solid black, wild/grizzled, solid red/brown, black and white spotted, or black and red/brown spotted coat colorations
  • "Other characteristics" not currently known to the MDNR

Any farmer or other individual found to be in possession of such a hog could be charged with a felony and subjected to up to two years in jail and a $20,000 fine. But the real rub is that virtually any hog could be technically defined as feral under the MDNR's outrageous ISO. The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF) explained:5

" … under the [M]DNR's declaratory ruling, the department can determine that a hog is prohibited under the ISO if it possesses physical characteristics common to any pig even if the animal was raised under the husbandry of humans. In other words, all pigs not raised in confinement cannot possess even one illegal DNR characteristic listed in the declaratory ruling; this is impossible since all swine will have at least one DNR characteristic and would therefore be an invasive species and illegal to own."

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The Way Hogs Were Designed to be Raised

In the video above, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm shows the way hogs should be raised. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from what occurs on hog CAFOs.

Pastured Pork, Illegal?

What does all of this mean for residents of Michigan? Soon they will be unable to purchase sustainably and humanely grown meat from non-CAFO pigs, like the Mangalitsa "wooly" hogs raised on Baker's Green Acres farm. This particular breed is being raised by only a handful of small farms across the country; whereas more than 2 million pigs are slaughtered each week in the United States, only about 50 of them are Mangalitsas (which have been called the "it" pig by the New York Times, as several high-end restaurants and specialty markets have featured the rich, naturally-raised meat6).

But, of course, this issue is about much more than pasture-raised pork from a heritage breed ... it's about your ability, your right, to purchase and consume pure, unadulterated food from small farmers, not CAFOs – a right that continues to be threated for those living in the United States. FTCLDF continued:

"The ISO is a significant threat to private property rights, freedom of food choice, the ability of small farmers to make a living, and genetic diversity."

Interestingly, the Big Pork industry has been planning this anti-feral pig campaign for years, and even bragged about it in a 2010 newsletter.7 It was the same newsletter where they declared a win against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Ohio, where HSUS was seeking legislation to end the practice of sow gestation stalls (cages so small the sow can't turn around or move).

The Agricultural Leaders of Michigan (ALM), a coalition of agri-business groups including Michigan Pork Producers Association, the Michigan Corn Growers Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, and others, has been instrumental in backing the ISO, and killed an effort in March to have the order delayed. As FTCLDF stated:

"If the ALM had their way, all farm animals in Michigan would be raised in confinement facilities and there would be no opportunity to purchase animal products from those raising them differently. ALM has been a consistent source of misinformation claiming that swine raised outside are diseased, are a threat to become feral, and are a threat to spread disease to animals raised in confinement.

… ALM, like the rest of agri-business, wants only the white pork produced and they want it produced inside of buildings in confinement. If the public stays quiet concerning the ISO, and it's allowed to stand, the right for farmers to raise food animals the way many people want them raised (outdoors and not in confinement) is on the path to becoming illegal."

The ISO is Not a Law, and It Can Still be Rescinded …

This means we need your help now. MDNR has already begun filing claims against heritage-breed hog farmers, a game ranch operator, and a swine pet owner in the state.

But the ISO is not a law; rather, it's an "action" or "order" that's been taken by a state agency. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has the authority to tell MDNR to rescind the ISO, but so far has refused to do so.

Thousands of people have already contacted Governor Snyder's office to protest the ISO. In March, sixteen Senators and Representatives sent a letter asking Governor Snyder to either rescind the ISO or amend it so it only applies to feral swine (pigs running at large outside fences), "not those under the husbandry of humans and inside a fence,"8 FTCLDF reported. MDNR Director Rodney Stokes even had to step down, presumably because the ISO has generated such public backlash.

There are a few ways you, too, can get involved to express your opinion and help get this ISO rescinded. Remember this impacts not only the state of Michigan, but could also set a worrisome precedent that affects the rest of the United States as well. FTCLDF explained:

"There are reports that a number of other states are looking to see whether Michigan DNR gets away with enforcing this ISO because, if they do, other states will be trying to implement the exact same thing."

To get involved and take a stand to protect your right to food freedom and small farmer's rights: