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Two Food Cultures: The Supporters of the Michigan Heritage Hog Ban

April 6, 2012

Grist.org has now picked up the story of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources ban on hogs displaying feral characteristics. I covered the juicy bits last week, but I left out the conspiratorial parts concerning the role played by the Michigan Pork Producers Association (PPA) in implementing the order. Via Grist:

In a recent post on Take Part, Clare Leschin-Hoar spoke with Sam Hines, executive vice president of the Michigan Pork Producers Association, who fully admits that his organization, and the massive industry they represent, is involved in the order.

Hines says they’ve trapped a number of feral pigs and have tested them for diseases, including pseudorabies.

“It’s not something that humans would get, but it’s devastating to some species of livestock. If that virus gets disseminated to the domestic or commercial swine herd in this state, we would become quarantined. It would be economically devastating to our producers,” he said.

But so far, he admits, the transfer of pseudorabies from feral pigs to domesticated hogs has not occurred.

This is the website for the Michigan Pork Producers Association. You can click through, but in order to get my point all you need to see is the banner picture from their website:

This is an aerial shot of a CAFO, over-layed on top of a picture of a packed group of landrace hogs, standing on a concrete floor behind the bars of a cage. This picture is entirely antithetical to the idea of heritage breed cultivation, and it should sum up the  perspective of the organization which helped to draft the Invasive Species Order.

I am not one to entertain paranoid conspiracy theories, so I do not think the PPA sees the sale of a few heritage-bred pigs as a mortal threat to the business interests of its constituents. The commodity culture does not yet feel threatened by the minuscule market share of dispersed and disorganized heritage-breed producers. Let’s play nice and concede that their support of the Order stems from some sincere desire to protect their business from cross-over diseases which infect wild hogs.

But after looking at this picture, there can be no doubt why the DNR’s order was written with such stunning, obnoxious broadness. The Michigan PPA is proud to show pictures of CAFOs and pigs on concrete behind bars. The organization represents a commodity culture with a tin-ear for what is important to a certain type of consumer, and they will unabashedly, proudly even, put their deplorable agricultural ethos on display right on the front page. To members of the PPA, heritage breeders as weirdo dilettantes, a novelty act, and they just don’t 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. With a crew like the PPA drafting the DNR order, is it any wonder why it failed so miserably to account for the business needs of small scale farmers?

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  • pete

    “I do not think the PPA sees the sale of a few heritage-bred pigs as a mortal threat to the business interests of its constituents. The commodity culture does not yet feel threatened by the minuscule market share of dispersed and disorganized heritage-breed producers”

    I think you misunderstand the way the markets work. The massive groundswell interest in human, organic, local food is exactly on their radar. The CAFO’s know they have no hope of competing for that market. So the only hope they have of maintaining market dominance is to prevent the heritage producers from establishing.

    Also, due to commodity economics it doesn’t matter if the number of heritage hog producers is small. All it takes is a small fall in consumer demand or a small fall in the supply of hogs (through more folks like Mark Baker deciding against CAFO production) to tank profits. If the supply of hogs become constrained it will exponentially bid up the price of hogs (to the extent there is any free market left).

    • jasonfoscolo

      - You are either I heritage breeder or a conscientious eater. Either way, commodity producers see you as an object of derision, if they acknowledge you at all. The commodity-centric types I have worked with or have known are borderline haughty about their market dominance. They already enjoy every single legal and regulatory advantage they could ever hope for, so why shouldn’t they be?

      – If the groundswell is so massive, shouldn’t the heritage market already be established?

      – You also over-estimate the impact heritage production can have on the protein market. Your static-market model anticipates no rational response by the meat industry to changing domestic eating habits. It is not as if the integrators would simply collapse if a few hundred thousand more of us ate heritage. They would just find some other way to move the merchandise. Domestic beef consumption has declined annually, but the domestic cattle industry still increased production and profits through increased exports. [See USDA Economic Research Service, U.S. Beef and Cattle Industry: Background Statistics and Information]. Americans have always had a bias for white meat poultry, and Tyson has for years shipped titanic amounts of dark-meat chicken to other markets that have a preference for it. Integrators have a documented record of accommodating domestic tastes or changing eating habits. If they perceive heritage breeders as a threat at all, they may more easily just mount a market-oriented correction rather than burn political capital on a targeted ban of a few hundred heritage pigs.

  • Mike Ohlhausen

    So you are saying there are only a few hundred heritage hogs in the State of Michigan? So why is the DNR saying they are the cause of Millions of feral hogs…?