Heritage Livestock Farmers Fight the State, Find Unlikely Ally

Heritage Livestock Farmers Fight the State, Find Unlikely Ally Here’s how the strange story starts: On April 1st, 2012 Michigan State Department of Natural Resources implemented an Invasive Species Order (ISO) forcing the eradication of certain breeds of heritage pigs on their farms. According to the DNR, the order was issued "to help stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs, and wildlife as well as their potential for extensive agricultural and ecosystem damage." But the definition of feral seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. There is no doubt that Michigan is facing a feral pig problem. But why in the world would they be targeting small farms in an effort to deal with it? And watch out, because apparently there are a number of other states considering similar legislation. Apparently the answer has to do with the wording of the Order, which defines a feral big based on particular physical characteristics including “straight ears, wooly hair, dark snouts, and stripes on the piglets”. Get the whole story by clicking "read more" ->

As it happens, many small Michigan farmers have been raising a heritage breed called “Mangalista”, renowned for its flavor and tenderness. This is a pig species that has been around for several thousand years, but which MI farmers tend to crossbreed with varieties that are tough enough to make it through the harsh Northern Michigan winters. The result, unfortunately, is a pig that matches up perfectly with the definition of a feral pig included in the DNR Order.

Enter Jason Foscolo (the unlikely ally). Jason is an agricultural Lawyer from New York State who worked with heritage hog farmers in MI to form the American Mangalitsa Breeders Association to, among other things “help members jointly manage the reputation of the breed and be able to intercede on their behalf whenever regulation or market forces jeopardized their interests”. And due to the existence of this organization, Jason was able to intercede on the farmers’ behalf, eventually procuring a Enter Jason Foscolo, an agricultural Lawyer from New York State. Jason not only helped to form the organization, he was instrumental in helping negotiate an agreement with the DNR that at least purebred Magalistas will be protected.

The choice to classify feral pigs based on their anatomical traits, rather than whether they happened to be running amok (and evidence suggests that most of the hogs that are doing so are escapees from “hunting clubs”), rather than whether or not they are contained on a farm may have simply been an oversight.

But some farmers believe it has been an intentional and concerted effort led by the large confinement hog factories common in the state under the leadership of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, and with good reason.

Click Read More Below to continue reading this crazy tale.

At the bottom of this post there is a youtube video that has been watched over 75,000 times featuring one of these farmers and I have to admit, it’s quite compelling. There is also an article available on the web in which a representative of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, an industry lobby group, states point blank that they: “are involved in this”.

Whether one believes the conspiracy theories or not, it does seem strange that the DNR has systematically targeted small heritage pig farms – threatening arrest, and either killing the farmers’ pigs, or giving the farmers the “choice” to do so themselves in what seems an absurdly ironic attempt at providing the illusion of compassion and choice in this process.

In any case, as Jason says “Farmers have a whole array of legal resources at their disposal they can use to scale-up their power. There is of course the cooperative, which we have posted about numerous times. The Lanham Act, where our modern trademark law comes from, has a class of trademarks that farmers can use to collectively market agricultural goods. Neither of these examples, just two among many, are revolutionary legal concepts. They are proven organizational tools that have been used for ages by Big Food to protect their interests, conduct their business, and maintain their market dominance. Small-scale farmers have equal access to them all, but they just aren’t using them yet.”

You can view Jason’s numerous posts on this issue and many others on his website/blog at http://jasonfoscolo.com/

4 Comments on Heritage Livestock Farmers Fight the State, Find Unlikely Ally

  1. It isn’t a conspiracy. It’s corporate playbook 101. The book I read in my business law of my MBA was “Make The Rules or your Rivals Will,” by a Wharton professor. It’s why I’m in the local food movement – to do battle with this kind of evil (and yes, it is evil). Small producers have become corporate ag’s rivals, so they need to be on the offensive, and the defensive.

    • Yeah Mark, perhaps that wasn’t the best term. But I thought I did a pretty fair job of suggesting that there was merit to the claim.

      I try really hard to run a website that, while geared toward sustainable agriculture, does not focus on blaming corporations or individuals for the problems of modern agriculture. Instead, I try to present news stories, and information that I think will be helpful to beginning farmers. I’m sorry if the poor choice of words offended you. That was not my intent.

  2. I’m not offended Taylor. You did fine. It’s great information. I just wanted to add my two cents and remove some of the sugar coating. I am not lamenting corporate ag, I’m just letting everyone know we have to be ready for a fight.

    This is a pretty insidious way to get rid of competitors, and that’s exactly what they are doing. It hurts my heart, but we all need to be on the look out for these things and try to get to know our legislators and our regulators. Unfortunately, beginning farmers also have to become beginning lobbyists as well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.