Michigan bans heritage pigs


By Sen. Darwin Booher

When Mark Baker retired from the Air Force after protecting our nation for 20 years, he never thought he would be fighting his own state government to protect his family’s livelihood. Unfortunately, that’s what is happening now.

[See video by Mark Baker below; image of Mangalitsas from Food Channel]

Four years ago, Mark, his wife and six children began raising Mangalitsa and Russian swine at Baker’s Green Acres farm. The breeds are two of the many types of heritage hogs, and there is a tremendous market for niche animals like these pigs for small farm operations.

However, Mark and other farmers that raise heritage swine are being told by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that they must get rid of them by April 1.

In December 2010, the Michigan DNR issued an invasive species order (ISO) to make certain types of swine an invasive species, which prohibits farmers from raising them on their farms. The order became effective on Oct. 8, 2011 and affects all heritage hogs in Michigan. Even potbellied pigs, which are often raised as pets, may now be considered an invasive species in Michigan.

It’s ironic that just a week after the ISO’s effective date, Traverse City hosted Pigstock, a four-day course about Michigan Mangalitsa pigs. The course taught about breeding and husbandry practices, methods of processing, and charcuterie. Chefs from throughout the Midwest attended the conference. Now, the DNR’s order jeopardizes not only this conference, but the economic opportunities for small farm operations that raise heritage pigs.

The DNR’s thinking is irrational. The department says we must ban certain pigs because the state has a feral hog problem (pigs running at-large or outside a fence). But since all pigs outside of a fence are feral and the DNR cannot genetically differentiate between swine, the department decided to ban certain pigs in Michigan simply due to their appearance.

In December 2012, the DNR issued a ruling describing the characteristics that pigs cannot have or they will be considered an invasive species. Hence the Mangalista, along with many other breeds of swine that look different, are now considered invasive.

The politics of all of this – let’s call it pig politics – has been nothing less than amazing.

The small farmers I have talked to wonder why the DNR is singling out their pigs and joining forces with the Michigan Pork Producers Association on this issue. They believe the association wants all pigs to be raised in confinement facilities, and the best way to achieve that is to make it illegal to raise certain swine, especially those offering alternatives to the white pork raised in confinement.

In a Nov. 2, 2010 Traverse City Record-Eagle story, Agriculture Commissioner Don Coe said the Mangalitsa pigs can be grown locally, “not in large feedlots, but humanely, on small farms, the way they used to be.”

I believe it was a mistake for the DNR to involve itself in an agricultural issue that is not associated whatsoever with its mission. The DNR is charged with management of game and wildlife owned by the public – not the regulation of privately-owned animals. That is the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

My legislative colleagues and I have repeatedly asked the DNR to revise the ISO so it will not apply to pigs that are raised by people. We specifically asked DNR Director Rodney Stokes to rescind the order or revise it to apply only to pigs running wild outside a fence. Governor Snyder could also require it to be changed. Unfortunately neither has taken action.

This is a perfect example of government and bureaucrats moving their own agendas forward with total disregard for the law, private property rights and the Constitution.

Most importantly, it leaves Mark Baker – a man who has served our country honorably – little choice but to take action on his own to protect his family’s way of life from an overzealous state department. Beyond Mark, there are farmers all across Michigan that the DNR dictates must depopulate their animals because they are invasive species simply based on looks.

I oppose the DNR’s actions and will continue to stand up against this state government overreach.

I encourage you to contact Governor Snyder and DNR Director Stokes to express your opposition to this type of government behavior. Ask them to rescind this order and stand up for the small businesses that are providing choice in Michigan’s food industry.

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Feb 2012 Video by Mark Baker, described in Sen. Boohar’s OpEd:

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