Yes, Missouri deems it illegal to feed vegetables to pigs

It’s official: fresh vegetables and whey are considered garbage by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Two government veterinarians  (one MDA, one USDA working on behalf of MDA) visited the farm Tuesday morning to discuss our questions about whether Missouri’s ban on feeding garbage to for-sale pigs applies to straight produce, whey, and other non-meat products (background here). Joanna was taking notes/transcript the entire time, and we have pages of interesting material that I’ve left out in an effort to keep this a remotely reasonable length. We may use some of it in future posts; it was a very illuminating conversation.

The official determination, an exact quote:

“You can’t feed vegetables to hogs and then go sell the meat.”

I’d like to state up front that both of these people were cordial and seemed fairly sympathetic to our situation. This was not a confrontation, just a professional conversation in which they effectively conveyed what their bosses were telling them to say. It made for an interesting and at times tortuous conversation as they attempted to explain something that they seemed to know wasn’t quite logical. Another good quote:

“You’re up against what I would call an unintended consequence….you’re at a point where you’re not in the veterinarian field, you’re in the legal field.”

In other words, Missouri’s law is stupid and overreaching, but they’re being told to enforce it literally and so their hands are tied. We have to get lawyers involved, or get a new statute passed, for a different outcome to happen.

Again, Missouri (and most other states and the Federal government) passed laws banning the feeding of garbage to pigs in the 1950s, to control the spread of vesicular exanthema, which has since been effectively eradicated. Our visitors pointed out that there are several other swine diseases that remain of concern , that can also be controlled by preventing the feeding of raw, mixed garbage. So there is still a relevance to the overall prohibition, and I have no problem with banning the feeding of mixed dumpster contents to pigs.

However, meat & seafood scraps are the primary and only real concern here. Both our visitors agreed that unadulterated vegetable, fruit, or dairy products (i.e. not mixed with meat) would not be a concern from a swine or human health perspective. Indeed, I discovered that while the Missouri law defines garbage & garbage feeding thus:

…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…

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.

the Federal version of this law contains a far more nuanced and rational definition that actually addresses the concern in question:

Garbage. All waste material derived in whole or in part from the meat of any animal (including fish and poultry) or other animal material, and other refuse of any character whatsoever that has been associated with any such material, resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking or consumption of food, except that such term shall not include waste from ordinary household operations which is fed directly to swine on the same premises where such household is located…

(a) No person shall feed or permit the feeding of garbage to swine unless the garbage is treated to kill disease organisms, pursuant to this Part, at a facility operated by a person holding a valid license for the treatment of garbage; except that the treatment and license requirements shall not apply to the feeding or the permitting of the feeding to swine of garbage only because the garbage consists of any of the following: rendered products; bakery waste; candy waste; eggs; domestic dairy products (including milk); fish from the Atlantic Ocean within 200 miles of the continental United States or Canada; or fish from inland waters of the United States or Canada which do not flow into the Pacific Ocean.

Moreover, on December 9, 2009, the USDA stated in the Federal Register that:

The regulations in 9 CFR part 166 regarding swine health protection (referred to below as the regulations) were promulgated in accordance with the Act. The regulations contain provisions that regulate food waste containing any meat products fed to swine.

Emphasis mine. Our visitors agreed that as vets, they’re fine with the Federal definition. Notice that this version addresses the specific concern, meat and seafood scraps from the lower Pacific coast, while allowing anything else that hasn’t come into contact with those specific items. Federal law makes what we want to do (and what lots of farmers around the country do) legal; it’s just Missouri that has passed an overreaching law, and someone high up in MDA (I know who, but no names yet)  is interpreting it so broadly as to ban us from even throwing a turnip over the fence to a pig. A paraphrased part of our conversation:

Us: So if we grow turnips in a field and browse pigs on them, that’s legal because it’s a pasture crop?

Them: Yes, pasture crops are fine.

Us: But if we pick the turnips and throw them over the fence to the pig, then it’s illegal garbage?

Them: (uncomfortable pause) According to the way Missouri law is interpreted, yes, that’s illegal garbage feeding.

We had the same discussion about whey, with much the same result. As vets, they weren’t concerned about us feeding whey from our own herd, or even about bringing it in from a known point source like another dairy (as long as it wasn’t getting mixed or adulterated with anything), but they’re being told to interpret Missouri law as that being illegal garbage feeding, so therefore it’s probably illegal (it’s a liquid animal product, after all). We actually had a hard time pinning them down on this one, as the MDA guy kept pointing out that whey is actually listed as a feed material in their official hog handbooks, with the USDA guy saying it still counted as garbage under the wording of the law. If you’re interested in the value of whey as pig feed, I more or less randomly found this 1975 study from North Dakota State University which concluded that:

Three years of data indicates that pigs can be raised to slaughter weights very efficiently and economically when using liquid whey as a protein supplement. Pigs that were fed whey required 100 pounds less feed per 100 pounds gain in 1975. 

We also discussed the weirdness of the personal exemption, in which you can feed household garbage to pigs you’re raising just for yourself. This is frustrating because that’s probably the best way for disease to be reintroduced back into Missouri; someone feeding a personal pig on undercooked kitchen waste (Pacific salmon, say, or imported pork), thus creating an infected pig that could then transfer the disease to other animals regardless of its not being sold. Again, they agreed that such a thing was far more likely to be a hazard than our proposal, but the law is the law. Yet another example in which individuals get a free ride while small businesses get hammered, even though making it harder for American farmers to economically raise their own pork actually increases the likelihood of importing theoretically diseased pork.
Eventually they fell back on saying, accurately, that they weren’t in a position to address any of the practical challenges we were raising, which they weren’t (just following orders from above). So the conversation effectively ended with them saying that this is how it is. Unless we mount a legal or legislative challenge to this law and its MDA interpretation, it is officially illegal to feed vegetables, whey, fruit, or any other non-grain material to pigs that you intend to transport or sell. And remember that it’s also a misdemeanor to buy such a pig, too.

This is exactly the kind of complicated, nuanced, and under-the-radar issue that really matters when it comes to food and farm policy, but is largely ignored. One bureaucrat in MDA can make a verbal determination (remember, we have nothing in writing) that instantly creates an entire class of criminal farmers, when he could just as easily have stated “in my opinion, raw unadulterated vegetables and whey are not refuse, and are therefore legal feed” (i.e. the Federal definition and that of most rational people). How are we supposed to fight the inertia of entrenched bureaucracy, as full-time farmers with little to gain and lots to lose? What do we do now?

This kind of thing must be addressed if we want small farms and local foods to grow and succeed.  Interestingly, our vet visitors tacitly agreed with us that there was no real profit in raising hogs on corn & soy, and it would be more economical to feed out produce & whey generated on-farm or gathered from other farms. But right now anyone who chooses to do that is technically a criminal. So like so many other innovative, enterprenurial small farmers, we face a choice of ethically not doing something and sacrificing potential income, or doing it illegally and both taking a legal chance and unfairly benefitting from non-competition from those who do follow the law. (Our choice not to sell cheese comes to mind).

For this year, we’ll just have one pig, sadly lonely, but well fed, and destined for our personal freezer. Our apologies to the numerous people who have expressed interest in buying pork raised our way.

3 thoughts on “Yes, Missouri deems it illegal to feed vegetables to pigs

  1. This is really dumb, especially since an animal you raised would almost certainly be safer to eat than the shrink-wrapped meat that most people get from the supermarket.

  2. Well, thing is, this has nothing to do with human food safety in their minds. It's only about swine safety and preventing re-introduction of swine diseases into Missouri from outside sources. So they could care less who buys what from where from a customer perspective. But yeah, it shows the mentality of government ag that they thinkg it's safer to ban vegetables & dairy products as feed to prevent them being theoretically mixed with imported meat than to make it easier to raise our own meat that never leaves the state in the first place.

  3. I'm going through legal trouble in VA too. My school (and pretty much all others) throw away SO much food, we live in a very rural area with lots of farmers so I figured why not have the farmers use the leftover food to feed their livestock? From what I understand, in VA it's STILL illegal to feed livestock anything other than the feed you buy at the store. So stupid and wasteful. I'm going to fight it, it's not right, if no body steps up and says something nothing will ever be done.