I’m being told, by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, that I may not be allowed (legally) to feed vegetables or whey generated on our farm, to pigs raised on our farm, if we want to sell said pigs to any consumer. I may need a permit and multiple annual inspections, or it may be illegal entirely; they’re not good at giving straight answers. Two USDA veterinarians are coming up to the farm next week to conduct a fact-finding inspection on this question. If this seems like the height of lunacy to you (and it did to another experienced direct-market hog-raiser in the area I contacted for their opinion), read on.
Missouri law, as written, strictly limits what and how you can feed a pig you intend to sell, defining just about anything other than grain as “garbage” and putting restrictions or prohibitions on its use. These laws were passed in the 1950s in response to an obscure but devastating disease in pigs (vesicular exanthema) that was spreading to the Midwest from California. At the time, many feedlots fed raw mixed garbage to their pigs as a cheap source of feed, but the inevitable pork scraps or seafood in that mix spread the disease, which was not transmissible to humans or other animals (other than fish and marine mammals, from which it originated). So here’s what part of the resulting law says:
Garbage defined.266.410. As used in sections 266.410 to 266.460, “garbage” shall mean all refuse matter, animal or vegetable, and shall include all waste material, by-products of a kitchen, restaurant, or slaughterhouse, every refuse accumulation of animal, fruit, or vegetable matter, liquid or otherwise.
Untreated garbage not to be fed, exception.
266.420. No person, other than an individual who feeds to his own swine only the garbage obtained from his own household, shall feed garbage to swine unless such garbage has been heated to a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (boiling point) and fed in compliance with rules and regulations promulgated by and under permits issued by the state department of agriculture.
Violation a misdemeanor, what constitutes offense.
266.460. Any person violating the provisions of sections 266.410 to 266.460 shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Each day the provisions of sections 266.410 to 266.460 are violated shall be a separate offense.
This was successful in eradicating vesicular exanthema; the Merck Veterinary Manual states that “In 1959, the USA was declared free of VES, and the disease was designated a foreign animal disease; it has never been reported as a natural infection of pigs in any other part of the world”.
Yet notice something interesting? Despite the fact that this is a pig-specific disease carried by meat scraps, the law’s wording bans feeding of all garbage, even fruits, vegetables and dairy products, and defines garbage as virtually all types of food matter. Yet it’s not even biologically possible to transmit this disease (vesicular exanthema) through produce, fruit, or dairy products unless they’ve been mixed with pork or seafood products. One of the USDA vets agreed with me on this over the phone; he also didn’t quite answer my question about whether it would still be garbage if I grew the produce specifically for the pigs. Obviously this is aimed at the large-scale garbage feedlots which are long extinct, but did it really not occur to anyone at the time that plenty of smaller farms still fed their hogs on vegetables or other scraps that weren’t full of pork? Pigs are omnivores; one of the reasons small farms have kept them for millenia is their ability to eat almost anything and turn it into tasty, safe meat. That’s what pigs do. In both Italy and the US, pig farms were often located near dairies and cheese-makers, as whey is a fantastic pig food.
Yet in a classic overreaction, whomever wrote this law banned even dairy whey from being fed to pigs (it’s a liquid byproduct, after all) or raw vegetables. So according to the letter of the law, if we sold a pig that we raised for six months on vegetable scraps and dairy whey as humans throughout history have done, we’d face over 180 counts of misdemeanors under Missouri law. Plus, the same misdemeanor charges apply to anyone who transports or even buys such a pig (i.e. you, the customer). And all of this for a disease that hasn’t been seen since 1959 and isn’t carried by vegetables or dairy. I was told by the USDA vet over the phone that there is such a “stigma” associated with garbage-feeding that the government will do everything possible to discourage it, but there’s a world of rational difference between me hauling restaurant dumpster contents back to the farm and feeding out market leftovers/damaged/overripe produce and whey from vegetarian dairy goats, both sourced on the same farm as the pigs and not mixed with outside materials.
I have been attempting to get a straight answer on whether this really does apply to farms like ours feeding vegetables and whey generated on the farm to pigs raised on the same farm. The MDA vet I spoke to told me I qualified as a garbage-feeder, would need an inspection/permit, and they would set it up. Next thing you know, I’m getting a call from a USDA vet based in Jeff City who sounded pretty confused about the whole thing and asking for confirmation that this was really what he was supposed to do. I gave him the information (legal wording, my past discussions with MDA) and he got back to me this week with confirmation that yes, he and another USDA vet were going to come out next week to inspect our farm and discuss the legality of me feeding on-farm vegetables and whey to on-farm pigs. I’ve already been told that it would definitely be illegal for me to feed whey from any off-farm source, even a fully inspected/certified cheesemaking dairy like the award-winning one near us, again despite whey being biologically incapable of transmitting vesicular exanthema.
What more evidence could anyone need as to why we’re sounding more and more (small-l) libertarian as our farming experience grows? Even if we somehow win our argument and get written permission to feed out farm scraps to the pigs, this is such a classic case of stupidity and waste, and still prevents farmers like us from raising pigs using many other safe and sustainable foodstuffs (like off-farm whey, or leftover vegetables from a grocery store produce department). Keep in mind, for context, that it remains perfectly legal to feed rendered carcasses, blood meal, and other nastiness to feedlot chickens and cattle. But we’re apparently of more concern. Lunacy.
Why do we care? Why did we even ask? Because we still believe the rule of law means something, and that we aren’t special enough to decide which laws we get to follow and which we get to ignore. Plus, we don’t want to take the risk of being the first farm busted for this when some bureaucrat decides to enfore a stupid law. It’s not worth risking the farm over a couple pigs being fed bootleg vegetables; the profit margin is too slim (one pork producer at market told me last year that their profit margin was around 10%, i.e. for every $20 customers spend, they keep $2).
In a rational world, raising pigs on the side makes a lot of sense for a diversified sustainable farm like ours. Ironically enough, one of the reasons we’re interested in raising pigs for sale is animal welfare; pigs are social animals and most resources state that they do better with others of their kind. Yet we can’t eat more than one pig a year, so the only solution to raise a happier, healthier pig is to have multiples, which means selling the extra(s), which on our farm means feeding farm scraps and leftovers. We also intend to use pigs to “plow” up our fescue pastures so we can restore them to a better biological mix, without using damaging and dirty tractors & fossil fuels. The ability to raise & sell pigs fed on farm products would make our farm more diversified and sustainable, both theoretically good things. Problem is, the world outside our gates isn’t terribly rational when it comes to food and ag policy.
We’ll post the results of Tuesday’s USDA inspection/discussion once we’ve digested it.