In Nazi Germany during the 1930s, the big challenge among Germans was to prove they weren’t Jewish. They scrambled to produce certificates of baptism and show family trees that documented they weren’t Jewish. It didn’t take much to fail–a half-Jewish grandfather, or a father with a questionable cousin.
A bitter joke circulated in Germany at the time: “‘What kind of women do German men like best?’ Answer: ‘No, not blondes. Aryan grandmothers!'” Aryans, of course, were pure Germans, the new German super breed.
In Michigan right now, owners of small pig farms are being asked to do something akin to what Germans had to do in those awful times: demonstrate that their pigs aren’t of impure breeds, don’t possess any of nine characteristics that essentially describe pigs that fall outside the mass-produced ones favored by the Michigan Pig Producers Association. The list includes ear, tail, and skeletal appearance.
And just to be sure anyone can eventually be tripped up, there’s a loophole at the end in case something isn’t covered: “Other characteristics not currently known…that are identified by the scientific community.” As we know, if you provide enough funding to enough people in the “scientific community”, you can come up with the declaration you want.
To avoid discussion of such unpleasantries, the Michigan authorities and their allies in the pork industry are stirring up lots of dust. Indeed, since I wrote about the situation there earlier this month, there’s been even more dust swirling about.
Natural News came out with an article about “armed raids on small pig farmers” that called for arrests of the government raiders. The article seems not to have been completely accurate–Michigan authorities were apparently checking on whether pig breeders were slaughtering their own pigs, not actually doing the slaughtering.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources responded with a carefully worded denial. It said it had not conducted armed raids and hadn’t been killing hogs. It added this explanation:
“The Invasive Species Order is not an attack on farms. In fact, the order is intended to protect Michigan farms. The animals at issue are not traditional farm pigs. The Invasive Species Order prohibits a particular species, Sus scrofa Linnaeus, commonly known as Russian boars, Eurasian wild boars, or razorbacks. This species is the terrestrial equivalent of Asian carp. The swine are incredibly destructive omnivores that destroy wildlife habitat and carry diseases that threaten domestic hogs, other livestock, wildlife and people. The owners of heritage pigs are not affected unless they own a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar or a hybrid of a Russian boar or Eurasian wild boar.”
The state’s intent remains clear. Certainly we know that wildly roaming pigs can cause destruction. Feral pigs were even blamed as possible sources of the 2006 E.coli O157:H7 spinach outbreak in California. But to compare them to Asian carp seems extreme, since the fish can’t easily be domesticated on farms like heritage pigs can.
Big Ag’s Michigan Pork Producers Association similarly denies it is trying to stamp out small producers:
“Since the DNR began enforcement, opponents of the ISO have stepped up their efforts and rhetoric by embarking on a vicious misinformation campaign alleging that MPPA and ‘Big Ag’ have conspired with the DNR to put small, niche pork producers raising hogs outdoors out of business. We cannot stress enough that this is utter nonsense and absolutely untrue. Neither MPPA nor the DNR have any interest in deterring niche producers from continuing to operate as usual, unless the producer is using the breeds or types of hogs prohibited by the ISO, or crossing those prohibited breeds with domestic breeds to circumvent the ISO.”
Some of the best analysis on this situation is being offered by a food lawyer, Jason Foscolo, who said recently:
“The jitters coming from the heritage breeders within the state are therefore entirely justifiable. Every heritage breed that is commercially raised exhibits one or more of these (nine) ‘feral’ traits. Several of the prohibited characteristics are present in the purebred Mangalitsa for example, porcine royalty once served at the feasts of Habsburg princes.
“The plain meaning of the Order and its subsequent clarification would therefore allow the Department to morph a hog of the noblest, pedigreed heritage into a nuisance. Such animals could be destroyed by government decree based on the presence of an indefinite number of physical characteristics.
“It thus appears the Department composed the list of feral characteristics with complete disregard for the qualities of heritage breeds of livestock, phenotypic or otherwise. The Order prohibits the precise qualities that make them such important parts of a diversifying food system.”
It’s not a big stretch to figure out what’s behind this effort at genetic selection and scapegoating of heritage breeds. As more people exit the conventional food system, and seek out heritage breeds of pork, and other meats, the commodity producers lose market share. Foscolo isn’t quite ready to grant that the marketplace is shifting as profoundly as I see it shifting, but he notes that the PPA views the “heritage breeders as weirdo dilettantes, a novelty act, and they just dont understand the kinds of markets the heritage breeders are trying to develop. They look upon heritage producers with ridicule, if they even look at all. You do not need to invent a conspiracy theory to resent arrogance like this. For the time being, the commodity culture is the one with a seat at the table, calling the shots and drafting the regulations.”
In the meantime, there are a number of initiatives to change the situation. There is a petition campaign opposing the Michigan DNR campaign, launched by Victoria Bloch of Los Angeles (and one of the Rawesome Three). There is at least one court fight going on, involving a breeder of heritage pigs; according to a post by farmer Mark Baker, the breeder last week convinced a local judge to reduce the DNR’s authority to enter and monitor the breeder’s facilities. The heritage breeders will have a long fight ahead of them, but it is a fight worth fighting. Mandating genetic purity is rarely a progressive move, whether in people or animals.
It’s one thing to make the feral pigs running wild and destroying property, illegal and fair game for eradication. But don’t go into people’s businesses, where the animals are carefully raised, domesticated, and fenced in, and force them to be destroyed. Unfortunately, that’s where our monopolistic corporate food producers are headed, toward getting their government stooges to do the dirty work of getting rid of the competition.
Interesting timing, as Walter Jeffries, the owner of Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont, has just succeeded in raising $25,000 on Kickstarter to build a new butcher shop. Jeffries has created a sustainable business raising pastured heritage pigs and selling their pork privately.
The Food Rights Workshop in Minneapolis May 13 is filling up fast, so if you are planning to attend, sign up ASAP. It’s 2-5:30, with dinner following. A great program of speakers on tap.
Kristin Canty, the producer of the documentary “Farmageddon”, reports the movie is now available for rental or sale on Amazon.
Here is a photo from the inspection by agents from the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Food and Agriculture today (Tuesday) at Organic Pastures Dairy Co., which he describes in his comment following this post. The agent at left, according to McAfee, was wearing a bullet-proof vest and a second agent was armed.