Feral hogs could wind up on Missouri menus if lawmaker gets his way

2017-12-07 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Dec. 07--JEFFERSON CITY -- Fearful of losing the battle against the spread of wild hogs, Missouri conservation officials are again voicing opposition to a proposal that would allow feral pigs to be processed for their ribs, roasts and loins.

The fear: Regulating the processing of feral hogs would create an economic incentive for hunters to introduce more of the pigs to Missouri's forests and farmlands to start new populations.

"Feral hogs are a public nuisance. We want them eradicated from Missouri's landscape," said Aaron Jefferies, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

For the second year, Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, has introduced legislation that would allow for hogs caught in the wild to be sent to meat processors, where they could be transformed into bacon, chops and other barbecue favorites. Although hunters can dress their own animals and use the meat, the pigs cannot be commercially processed for human consumption.

"My goal is to allow more people to hunt feral hogs and then use the meat," Taylor said.

Taylor said he has hunted and eaten feral swine. He smoked the ribs and they tasted "great."

"They taste a little more gamey," Taylor said. "The bigger ones have more fat."

He envisions donating the excess meat to food pantries and other programs that help people who need food.

"It's a lot of meat," Taylor said.

But the idea runs counter to the goals of the Department of Conservation.

Through Oct. 31, Jefferies said Conservation agents have killed nearly 6,000 hogs this year, up from a 2016 total of 4,385.

The department also has banned hunting of the hogs on Conservation property. Hunting of the feral pigs is still allowed on private property, but is frowned upon by the agency.

"Hog hunting provided an incentive to release feral hogs in different parts of the state," Jefferies said.

In November, a Dent County man was charged in connection with a wild boar hunting ring in which swine were illegally released for the purposes of hunting, according to court documents.

Conservation officials allege that Michael L. Bennett of Jadwin bought two hogs at a stockyard in Shannon County and released them.

Jefferies said incidents like that could stymie efforts to eradicate the pigs, which have spread to 39 states, including 30 counties in Missouri. The Conservation Commission has committed $2 million this year to fight the spread of the pigs.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that wild hogs do more than $1.5 billion damage nationwide each year.

But the species' prolific breeding rate means that 50 to 75 percent of the population must be killed each year to keep the population in check.

"Right now we are trying to stay ahead of Missouri's feral hog problem. Feral hogs aren't a problem just for MDC, they are everyone's problem. Both the conservation community and agricultural community want feral hogs eradicated from the state so we don't want to do anything that would provide an incentive to keep them here," Jefferies said.

Taylor understands the opposition from the department could torpedo his proposal.

"It's an uphill battle going against something they don't support," Taylor said. "I'd like for it to at least get a hearing."

The 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 3.

The legislation is House Bill 1414.

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