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Missouri law includes vegetables in definition of garbage feeding

Thursday, July 21, 2011 | 8:05 p.m. CDT; updated 12:55 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 22, 2011
Eric Reuter, owner of Chert Hollow Farm, wanted to feed his pigs a blend of fresh vegetables, but the state Department of Agriculture wouldn't grant him a permit to do so.

COLUMBIA — When Eric and Joanna Reuter of Chert Hollow Farm, 12 miles north of Columbia, decided they wanted to raise and sell pigs this spring, they checked out Missouri laws on feeding.

What they discovered surprised them: It is illegal to feed vegetables to pigs if the animals are going to be sold to consumers in Missouri.

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The statute — Title XVII: Agriculture and Animals — says feeding pigs garbage is illegal unless it’s first heated to a boiling point, and Section 266.410 defines garbage as:

  • Animal or vegetable refuse matter
  • All waste material
  • Byproducts of a kitchen, restaurant or slaughterhouse
  • Refuse accumulation of animal, fruit or vegetable matter, liquid or otherwise

It's a misdemeanor punishable for every day the law is broken. The penalty for the violation is not specified in the state statute. The Missouri Department of Agriculture was unable to answer questions on the exact amount of the fines.

The Reuters didn't want to risk penalties that would hit them hard as owners of a small farm. But they thought feeding their pigs scraps such as organic vegetables grown on their farm and whey — a byproduct of cheese-making — from their goats or other dairies was something they should be able to do.  

The Reuters called the state Department of Agriculture to discuss the inclusion of vegetables in the law. 

“We initially called and asked about the meaning of the wording,” Eric Reuter said. “We wanted to know if it applied to on-farm vegetables or whey straight from a dairy, things that don’t involve meat scraps.”

The Reuters said State Veterinarian Taylor Woods told them they could get a free permit to exempt them from the law and allow them to be a garbage-feeding swine operation. The permit process would include several inspections of the farm each year. The Reuters said Woods told them he would send a government veterinarian to their farm to inspect the property and clear them for the permit.

U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian Dane Henry and state Department of Agriculture veterinarian Kent Haden arrived at Chert Hollow Farm with bad news. Woods had decided not to issue the farm a permit.

“When those two vets came out, they told us that Woods had changed his mind and was no longer going to issue any permits for any kind of garbage-feeding whatsoever, and that they were now considering garbage-feeding to be all forms of vegetables and whey, period,” Eric Reuter said.

It was a disappointment for the Reuters, who were expecting to get the permit to feed hogs fresh vegetables grown on their farm. They said they'd never heard of a health risk from plain vegetables.

Eric Reuter said the two government veterinarians agreed with him that there was no risk.

MU Extension swine nutritionist Marcia Shannon agrees that vegetables alone do not pose a problem to the health of swine and that raw meat is the only problem.

Shannon said the only potential problem with vegetables would be if there was fecal or organic matter on the vegetables that was not washed off before it was fed to pigs.

As the Reuters discussed the particulars of the law with the visiting veterinarians, they were told that plucking a turnip from their garden and throwing it to their pigs would be considered illegal.

"There's production in the U.S. where they plant fields of turnips and send the pigs out there to forage on them, so why would pulling it out of a garden and feeding it to them be different?" Shannon said.

A safety measure

The Missouri statute that includes vegetables in the definition of garbage originated in 1959 after an outbreak of vesicular exanthema in swine across the country. The law was written to prevent the spread of the disease, which was eradicated in the U.S. in 1959, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture officials declined to comment about the inclusion of vegetables in the law or the permit denial for Chert Hollow Farm.

But state Director of Agriculture Jon Hagler and Woods did say in an email that vesicular exanthema is not currently an issue in Missouri.

"Animals raised for commercial sale and introduction into the food system would typically be fed rations including corn, oats, barley and soybean meal," the statement read.

The department outlined the rules for raising pigs for personal consumption but did not comment on the definition of garbage in the Missouri law or the possibility of selling vegetable-fed pigs.

"Animals produced for an individual’s personal consumption are not regulated by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and it is entirely possible for those animals to consume other feedstuffs as outlined in (Section) 266.420," the statement continued. "However, including meat scraps of any kind in feed is not acceptable."

State vs. federal law

The Missouri statute is different from federal law.

The federal version of this law — 9 C.F.R. part 166: Swine Health Protection, Section 166.1 — defines garbage as “all waste material derived in whole or in part from the meat of any animal (including fish or poultry) or other animal material …”

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service wrote in the Federal Register, “The regulations contain provisions that regulate food waste containing any meat products fed to swine.” The definition was clarified: “In accordance with the regulations, food waste containing meat may be fed to swine only if it has been treated to kill disease organisms.”

There is no mention of vegetables, fruit or dairy in the federal law or on the Federal Register regarding the law.

But states have discretion, said Lyndsay Cole, spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 

“Like any law, the states have the discretion to create their own laws that govern actions that occur within their own states," Cole said. "That’s what's occurring in this case.”

Enforcement, too, is up to individual states, not the USDA.

"I assume (Missouri's law is) just because when those rules were put in place, which was before our time, that it was easier to just put vegetables into the category of table scraps," Shannon said. "Table scraps meant anything that came off your table. It's a broad term."

Shannon said she thinks the law should be revisited and clarified to clearly define garbage as only uncooked meat.

"Vegetables alone are not the cause for the rare diseases out there. It's uncooked meat," Shannon said. "We feed animal byproducts to pigs. They are just cooked to a certain temperature that's regulated by the government."

Garbage defined

Don Nikodim, executive vice president of the Missouri Pork Association, said the feeding of garbage to pigs is the issue in general practice, and what's in garbage varies. It's a pretty broad category, but Nikodim said he assumed the state Department of Agriculture veterinarians looked at the issue from that standpoint and decided not to allow garbage feeding.

“The safe process of feeding pigs is very scientific," Nikodim said. "Our rations (at the Missouri Pork Association) are given attention to detail. . . . Balance is important for pigs to grow and perform and be healthy. I’m sure Dr. Woods’ decision is based off of sound science and facts."

Tim Safranski, an MU associate professor in Animal Science and a state swine breeding specialist, said the Missouri law deals with legitimate food safety issues but said he wasn’t aware that vegetables were included in it.

“Historically, there was a lot of refuse fed to pigs, including things like table scraps. If you feed raw meat to an animal and it gets high levels of bacteria, then you have a greater chance of that being passed on to the people that would eat or process the meat,” Safranski said. “So if it’s been on a plate, there’s concern. If you had a spinach farmer and the spinach was too ripe to sell, I thought that was OK to feed pigs.”

Eric Reuter said he understands the need to heat raw meat or fish scraps to their boiling point in order to eliminate the possibility of disease, but he said it's not necessary or feasible to boil vegetables scraps.

“If I had to haul all of my vegetable scraps back to my kitchen, cook them, cool them and take them back out again, . . . the amount of time involved in that would wipe out the whole point,” Eric Reuter said. “They don’t need to be cooked. They’re clean; they’re fresh vegetables. There’s no reason to cook them if they haven’t had raw meat in them. The point of the cooking law is raw meat.”

Still, the Reuters said they'll follow the law. Although they were advised to consider getting a lawyer to help them take on the state, they said they are not considering it because of the time and expense involved.

Tim Gibbons, communications director at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said the law is not meant to hurt small farmers but is an unintended consequence of a law that is decades old.

“There are a lot of laws that support corporate agriculture operations at the expense of independent family farmers and rural communities in general,” Gibbons said. “But this law was made in the 1950s, and there weren’t industrial livestock operations in the 1950s. So it doesn’t sound like this law was made to give an advantage to them, it just happens to now.”

Gibbons pointed out the Reuters could ask their legislator to try to amend the law.

Marshaling support

That idea has occurred to Eric Reuter. He has let the issue go for the summer but intends to get back to it in the fall when the Missouri legislature is back in session. He has contacted groups such as the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund for advice.

“We’re going to come back to this and get other people to work with us to make some change,” Eric Reuter said.

But that resolve hasn't alleviated his frustration over the last few months.

“I’ve got a list as long as my arm of people that would buy pork raised the way we do," he said. "They have no worries about the way we do it. But they’re not being given the option to make that choice.”

Most of his frustration is with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

“They are refusing to even work with us," he said. "They’re not saying, ‘OK, this is cool, this isn’t meat feeding, let’s get you that permit.’ They won’t even do that.”

He sees this particular issue as symbolic of other issues small farmers face.

“There are so many other cases of obscure or poorly thought out or aggressively interpreted law that makes it harder for small farmers or even small businesses to do what they do,” Eric Reuter said.

Missourian reporter Will Floyd contributed to this article.


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Comments

Harold Sutton July 22, 2011 | 12:13 a.m.

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral.. Is that not the basic categories we used at school and even on quiz shows. If that is the case, then it would be illegal to feed hogs corn from the field if it has not been cooked imediately prior to feeding it. (while corn is a cereal grain, it is still in the vegetable group).

But it is okay to turn the hogs loose in a cornfield and let them go at it.

Sounds like people with some knowledge were ignored while the politicians postured.

(Report Comment)
Elaine Hartley July 22, 2011 | 8:29 a.m.

I would not describe the conditions in commercial hog confinements as "scientific". A more apt decription might include the words horrific, disgusting, or hell on earth. Hog confinements destroy watersheds, foul the air in rural communities, and are the perfect vector for diseases that can be communicated to humans. It is absurd that the Reuters are being denied the right to raise their hogs for sale in a way that is much healthier for all of us as well as more humane for the hogs. This ruling just shows the power of the so-called Pork Producers in the state of Missouri. I would be happy to purchase pork produced by Chert Hollow Farm but I NEVER, I repeat NEVER buy pork produced by big agribusiness. Who wants to partake of all that pain and suffering?

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers July 22, 2011 | 8:35 a.m.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the MDA, Mr. Reuters. Frankly, unless you're a big agribusiness concern you'll have little luck with that organization.

Unfortunately, since you're a small, organic farmer, using sustainable and humane techniques, it's unlikely you'll get far with your legislators, either.

And don't expect to get help from the Missouri Pork Association. It's only interested in helping CAFOs.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 22, 2011 | 9:05 a.m.

Fascinating. Going back to the agricultural reforms of the New Deal (Secretary Henry Wallace), the whole idea was to first and foremost protect and promote the interests of the family farmer.

Americans have generally been in favor of that, even those who have never set foot on a farm. There is even an NCAA Division I university football team that has "ANF" - America Needs Farmers - on their helmets. (Did you notice that at the Insight Bowl? Maybe you were too far away.)

Indeed, America DOES need farmers, but far too much "farm assistance" goes to those who need it the least.

(Report Comment)
Shelley Powers July 22, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.

I visited Mr. Reuter's web site for his farm.

http://www.cherthollowfarm.com/

What a wonderful place. What a terrific attitude. Notice how open the site is about the place? You won't find such openness in a CAFO.

Wonderful farm.

(Report Comment)
Chris Cady July 22, 2011 | 11:54 a.m.

We didn't have the benefit of seeing the entire response from Ag but what was quoted sure seems to be a cop-out. As experts and regulators of daily activity in their field, agencies have an obligation to say something intelligent rather than just "Yeah, that's what the law says." How about "Although the law covers everything, we don't see a particular risk in feeding a fresh beet to a hog." Or even "We would be happy to work with anyone who might wish to update the regulations to address this issue with some new language that makes sense for today." Instead, they seem to be no help at all, either for this farmer or for updating the law in general.

(Report Comment)
Jeremy Calton July 22, 2011 | 12:39 p.m.

They might be saying "that's what the law says" but it doesn't, according to this article.

How could a freshly plucked vegetable be considered "refuse" by ANY definition of that word?

"...plucking a turnip from their garden and throwing it to their pigs would be considered illegal."

Feeding them corn MEAL (what agribusiness undoubtedly wants) is actually much closer to a definition of refuse or bypdroduct.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 22, 2011 | 1:05 p.m.

Meh. Unless you're worried about the Ag Department making a surprise inspection, or simply enjoy playing, "Mother, may I?" with the government, just go ahead and feed them veggies.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders July 22, 2011 | 3:10 p.m.

Only in government would someone make an argument that fresh vegetables aren't fit for a pig.

When feeding pigs healthy food is outlawed, only outlaws will feed pigs healthy food.

The real swine in this case are the criminals in cheap suits who control the lives of others allegedly to save us from ourselves while growing fat off of the public purse. That people willingly submit to this subhuman treatment is the real problem here. Legislators and their enforcement mechanism are nothing but a gang masquerading as public service. Of course, it is obvious who is being served here.

(Report Comment)
Steven Whitaker, CRM July 22, 2011 | 5:51 p.m.

This is not a new law; it has been around more than fifty years. Read the law; do not use refuse; byproducts; refuse matter, etc., unless you cook it. Fresh veggies, corncobs, etc. are fine to use.

By the way; I went to school with Kent Haden; played on the same football team with him. He is a straight shooter.

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter July 22, 2011 | 8:37 p.m.

Our thanks to Ellen, Will, and the Missourian for working hard on this story and being willing to run it. We have posted a followup on our farm blog with a few more thoughts:

http://cherthollowfarm.blogspot.com/2011...

A few responses to the comment thread:

@Jimmy Bearfield: Are you willing to bankroll any future misdemeanor charges against us, and our customers, including legal fees, for any future charges brought by MDA? You're telling us to run a dishonest business, and we're not going to do that.

@Steven Whitaker: Have you read the article carefully? Your interpretation of the law's wording would be most rational peoples', including mine. However, it is not MDA's interpretation of the law, and that's what matters. They specifically and clearly told us that all vegetable (and whey) feeding is illegal, period. Otherwise none of this would ever have come up; we'd be happily tipping buckets of tomatoes and zukes over the fence to hogs we intended to sell, and you'd never have heard of us.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 22, 2011 | 10:12 p.m.

Why would I pay your legal fees? Are you going to give me a cut of your profits results in increased business?

If you disagree with a law that undermines your business, either work to get it changed or ignore it. I wouldn't be surprised if the latter is far less expensive than the former.

Ultimately you have to make a choice: ignore the law or forgo the market opportunity of the “list as long as my arm of people that would buy pork raised the way we do."

Good luck with your decision and business.

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter July 23, 2011 | 5:51 a.m.

@Jimmy Bearfield:

You missed a choice. Work to change the law, which is what we're doing by trying to raise awareness of it.

Again, you're telling us to intentionally run a dishonest business, which is fundamentally offensive to me as an honest American.

Would you really like to live in a society in which all businesses ignored whichever laws they chose? Most of us would not. We don't cheat on our taxes, either, even though we disapprove of many of the ways in which they're spent.

As for paying our legal fees, that was hyperbole. But it's easy for someone behind a computer screen to claim that we should risk 5 years of work and investment in our business by ignoring the law.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 23, 2011 | 6:49 a.m.

Hypothetical situation: Is it ethical for a lawyer to advise someone or some group to break the law? I'm under the impression that it is not, but then I'm just an ignorant engineer from a small, renegade University of Missouri System campus. :)

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield July 23, 2011 | 9:42 a.m.

"You missed a choice. Work to change the law, which is what we're doing by trying to raise awareness of it."

You didn't read my post. I wrote, "If you disagree with a law that undermines your business, either work to get it changed or ignore it." You've chosen the first option. What will you do if the government continues to ignore your requests?

It's an interesting ethical dilemma when there are two right, defensible choices. In this case, it's a choice between obeying the law and providing people with food that most experts apparently believe is at least as healthy and safe, if not more so, than alternatives that follow the letter of the law.

Awareness is a fleeting thing. People read and watch stories such as this and think, "The government is nuts!" Then the phone rings, or they change the channel, and they completely forget it. But the business owner is left to continue beating his or her head against the wall and hoping he or she won't join the ranks of those whose reasonable ideas were foiled by government.

Again, good luck with your decision and business.

(Report Comment)
Harold Sutton July 23, 2011 | 9:47 a.m.

Ellis; Apparently so for some Lawyers who put their own interpretation on a law. Especially if it will benefit them without regard as to the other parties involved.

The question; "what is your opinion about 3000 lawyers being chained to the bottom of the ocean?" "Its a start."

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 23, 2011 | 11:03 a.m.

Harold Sutton:

I may have heard every lawyer joke available form 1985 to 2005, all of them from lawyers.

How about another "hypothetical situation"? The rule for posting on this Missourian site is that posters must use their real names. If someone were not using his/her real name, would that be a violation of the rules? (Obviously it would.) Would it be intellectually dishonest? Would it be unfair to those who follow the rules? (Seems likely.)

So why would someone do that?

(Report Comment)
Eric Reuter July 23, 2011 | 2:05 p.m.

@Jimmy Bearfield:

You're right, I seem to have missed that part of your comment. My apologies. To answer your question, if we can't get this fixed, we'll continue with the decision we already made for this year: to continue raising a hog for our own use, but none others for sale. It's not worth the risk, especially given that the law specificies a misdemeanor count for every day you feed garbage to a for-sale hog (180+ counts for a single animal through slaughter...)

I fully agree with the rest of your latest post, and have nothing to add other than that such experiences, repeated over and over again in the five years we've run this farm, have significantly affected our political views.

(Report Comment)
Harold Sutton July 23, 2011 | 4:46 p.m.

Ellis; I agree with the requirement for using their real name. I am sure that there are a few using "Missourian" comments sites who are registered falsely. I am not.

(Report Comment)
Tim Trayle July 23, 2011 | 5:56 p.m.

As I understand it, the federal provisions having to do with hog feed are not an issue. The federal provisions are quite reasonable and would not make what Eric proposes illegal. The issue is *state* government.
.
Why is the Missouri Dept of Agriculture holding on so tightly to a silly regulation like this? (Are they protecting the makers of commercial feed?)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams July 23, 2011 | 6:01 p.m.

It might be good if folks would actually read the link posted in the article about vesicular exanthema in swine:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/78696...

It's important to note that NO reservoir for the virus was ever found; the only association was the feeding of raw garbage.

I have no idea if the current law is needed, either in its current form or some other form. Any new assessment of vesicular exanthema is above my expertise and pay grade. Folks in this thread are certainly sympathetic with Reuter and, quite frankly, I am, too. It would appear he will be quite careful with what he feeds his hogs. It also appears there is no danger in what he plans to do.

But, what about the next guy? And the next? And the next? Who knows how this will morph from one "good thing" to another "not-so-good" thing? Practices that seem like a good idea now may not be such a good idea later on (for example, re-feeding meat scraps back to animals WAS once considered an OK thing to do, no matter how much we poo-poo the idea now). It might be OK to grow your own veggies and feed them to hogs, but is it OK to BUY those same veggies from some other grower in some other state who might be using manure-laden water in a hydroponic fertilizer? Like some knuckleheads have done with....bean sprouts? Can you say "E coli" or "Salmonella" or "Listeria"?

Disease has brilliant ways of inserting itself into our lives, all the "common sense" and "sympathy" arguments by Missourian posters notwithstanding.

It would be good if a vet spoke up here........

(PS: It would also be good if the journalist would read MORE in her own link besides the "which was eradicated in the U.S. in 1959" comment. Geez, Ellen...did you read AND understand your own link, especially the latter part of it?)

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks July 23, 2011 | 9:28 p.m.

I have an idea Eric. How about I come and buy roughly 400 dollars in vegetable from you and you can throw in a free hog...

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 23, 2011 | 10:21 p.m.

@ Harold Sutton

Sorry, Harold, if there was some confusion. I never for a moment thought you aren't posting under your real name. Not everyone does, however.

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall July 24, 2011 | 4:32 p.m.

I've been following Eric's blog for awhile and am glad to see this situation addressed more publicly by the Missourian.

I think what some of you posting in reply (especially perhaps Michael Williams) are not really absorbing is that no one, least of all the Reuters, is advocating the feeding of raw meat to pigs. It's apparently specifically feeding of that raw meat which brings up even the remote possibility of vesicular exanthema. A disease which was eradicated over 50 years ago. Of course we know that sometimes things can pop back up unexpectedly. But not a single case in over 50 years? And again, no one is saying to feed raw meat, which was apparently the issue with vesicular exanthema.

I find it quite telling that the MDA is not even willing to talk to the Missourian about this. This is bureaucratic blindness and obstinacy at its finest. Especially in the face of the fact that the FEDERAL law allows feeding of vegetable matter and does not define vegetables as "trash."

I agree that this looks very suspiciously like an attempt to protect large farmers and CAFOs at the expense of small farmers. And at the expense of US. After all. Eric is producing quality, local source, natural, organic food for us to eat. CAFOs? Not so much.

It's my hope that a lawyer does read this article and decide to step in and help. It's time to shine a light on some of these big bureaucratic entities and change some things for the benefit of us all.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith July 24, 2011 | 5:24 p.m.

@ Robin Nuttall:

There's reason to believe that at least one lawyer has read the article, but if I were you I wouldn't hold my breath while waiting for assistance. Still, it could happen.

(Report Comment)

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