Environment & Science
7:55 am
Wed July 10, 2013

State wants judge to issue $700,000 fine to small farmer for special pigs

A farmer in Michigan could face up to $700,000 in fines for keeping a hybrid breed of pig if Michigan’s Attorney General’s office has its way.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources banned a species of wild Russian boar two years ago. The concern is that the pigs could escape from hunting reserves or farms and become hard to manage in the wild.

Mark Baker grows produce, and raises chickens, pigs and other animals at Baker's Green Acres in Marion.

He started out raising “white pigs, just industrial grade pigs.” But he says they didn’t do very well growing up outside; in the winter they got too cold, in the summer they got sunburned, and they didn’t forage very well for the roots, corn, and field peas Baker grew for the pigs to eat.

He started raising a wooly breed call Mangalitsa. They did better, but still had problems. He got a sow that he thinks looked like a Russian boar in 2007 and bred it with his Mangalitsa and got great results.

While the Russian pig is long gone, the bloodline remains in his stock. He says chefs want the fattier, red meat that comes from this animal. “The chefs go crazy for it. That’s why we grow it,” Baker said.

He sued the state to keep them.

“(The DNR) floated this notion to the public that any pig with Russian blood is very likely to become feral and they have razor sharp tusks and they scare old women and kill little children and it’s just totally made up,” Baker said.

He thinks the DNR is making a bigger deal out of the potential for the boar to cause harm than is warranted. Baker says his hybrid pigs have never escaped.

“The DNR’s saying to me that I have to de-populate my animals because they could become feral is like the State Police coming to me and saying we don’t think you should be driving that 71 Corvette because you might break the speed limit with it,” Baker said.

But the DNR insists there is a growing problem with feral swine.

“Thirty years ago, there were no feral swine sightings reported in Michigan,” the DNR’s website says, “By the end of 2011, more than 340 feral swine had been spotted in 72 of Michigan's 83 counties, and 286 have been reported killed.”

Spokespersons for both the DNR and the AG’s office declined to comment specifically on the case because it is pending. A hearing is set for Friday afternoon.

The state is asking a judge to fine the maximum $10,000 fine for each of the 70 hybrid pigs Baker owns. In a court document an attorney for the state argues Baker knew he’d have to get rid of the hybrids as early as two years ago.

“Given the variety of farming and educational activities that (Baker) engages in, there is no evidence that (he) will be deprived of ‘all economically beneficial or productive use of land.’ (Baker) will still possess all but the Russian boar “strand” in their bundle of property rights, even assuming, in the first place, that they had a property right to maintain Russian boar in an unregulated condition that threatens public health and the environment.”

A DNR spokesman says the law only outlaws the Russian species, not the Mangalitsa.

Pete Kennedy, President of Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund worries the law can be interpreted much more broadly.  

“They might tell them it’s just the Russian boar but that’s not the law. The law is contained in the declaratory ruling and they’re basing their interpretation there on the physical characteristics,” Kennedy said, “Under this declaratory ruling a pig with a straight tail can be prohibited but so can a pig with a curly tail.”

Kennedy says the law should only prohibit feral pigs; ones that are not fenced in and not under the “husbandry of humans.”