Regulation

The Unsavory Alliance of Big Government and Big Pig

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The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is a state agency "responsible for the stewardship of Michigan's natural resources and for the provision of outdoor recreational opportunities." As part of that responsibility, the agency recently issued new guidelines regulating the types of pigs that are permitted within the Wolverine State so as to "stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs, and wildlife."

That doesn't sound so bad, right? Wrong. As Jennifer Fry of the Pacific Legal Foundation reports, the agency's ruling is "so broad that any pig could qualify for destruction, including domestic farm animals." As Fry writes:

Whether a pig is prohibited or not depends on eight physical characteristics, including the coloration of its bristles, coat coloration, underfur coloration, skeletal appearance, ear structure and "other characteristics not currently known to the [Department] that are identified by the scientific community."  Rather than clarify the scope of this order, the Department has told individual farmers to bring in pictures of their pigs so the Department can decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether a pig must be destroyed.  And any farmer found to possess a prohibited pig is subject to a felony conviction, two years in jail, and $20,000 in fines.

Mark Baker, an air force veteran and the owner of Bakers Green Acres Farm, filed a lawsuit challenging the Department's order.  Baker raises specific heritage breeds of hogs which he has chosen because they can withstand Michigan's cold winters and because they are prized for their reddish-meat and high fat content by chefs and other gourmet food consumers.  Now, because those breeds exhibit characteristics on the Department's list, his entire operation is likely illegal under Michigan law; he expects the Department to show up at his farm any moment to destroy his animals and his livelihood.  Unsurprisingly, the Michigan Pork Producers Association—an organization whose members do not grow heritage pigs—supports the Department, which has allegedly assured the Association that its members' operations will be exempt.  It must be nice for large-scale producers who command enough political clout to simply outlaw their competition.  Meanwhile, Mark Baker and other smaller-scale farmers must wait to see where the bureaucratic winds will blow.

Read the full story here. For Reason's coverage of food politics, go here.

Update: Katherine Mangu-Ward writes about the proposed slaughter of Michigan's "fancy pigs" here.