The feral pig ‘problem’ is a regulatory issue. The one bright spot is that the Europeans – whose food safety standards far exceed our own – love our free range pork. The brilliant idea to use Warfarin to control pigs will destroy that market, and produce unknown and unintended consequences to other animals. As for people: Who would eat game originating in a system drenched in rat poison?
NOTE: This article was initially published to SAExpressNews.com on March 10, 2017
DEVINE —- Down a dirt road from cattle lolling on a feedlot, trucks pull into the Southern Wild Game plant carrying feral pigs that have been trapped from across the Lone Star State.
They are unloaded into holding pens and hosed down before being sent into the plant to be processed into steaks and chops, all under the watch of U.S. Department of Agriculture and European Union-licensed inspectors. Their meat leaves the plant boxed and ready for distribution to discerning diners overseas.
Wild hogs may be a nuisance to to Texas’ farms, ranches and, increasingly, cities. But in bistros and corporate lunchrooms across the Atlantic, the meat is considered a healthy delicacy. After all, who could blame continentals for savoring the taste of the Texas Hill Country in their wild boar goulash? With venison prices high, boar meat — or sanglier as its known in France — is a pretty hot commodity.
“It has a unique flavor,” said Mark Mitchell of Vernon, California-based Broadleaf Game, which owns the Southern Wild Game plant and markets “wild boar meat from hilly ranch country outside San Antonio” alongside exotic specialties like elk, ostrich, and buffalo. “It’s an old saying that we are what we eat. And if it’s eating acorn or mesquite, you know, it has a distinct flavor.”
Mitchell is pretty sure Europeans, among the most stringent when it comes to food imports, won’t take the slightest chance that Kaput Feral Hog Bait will end up in their sausages and stews. Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller signed an emergency rule Feb. 21 allowing the rat poison to be used to cull the feral hog population. Game processors like Mitchell, hunters and trappers across Texas are watching to see how a lawsuit challenging the rule plays out.
The key ingredient in Kaput — and in Miller’s self-declared “hog apocalypse” — is warfarin. In low doses, it’s used as an anticoagulant to help prevent strokes and heart attacks in humans. But in high doses, warfarin is used for rat control.
Social media sites erupted with posts questioning the effects Kaput would have on hunts and the extra money trappers got from selling their kills to processors like Southern. Processors that resell meat for human consumption only accept animals that are trapped live. Since it could take days for a hog to die from Kaput — which causes them to internally bleed to death — many wondered whether a tainted hog could get into the food chain.
Some wondered about the wildlife that would feed on hogs that die from Kaput.Others wondered about household pets accidentally ingesting bait or game like white-tailed deer consuming it and tainting the venison supply. A petition against Kaput had more 2,500 signatures within 36 hours of the news breaking.
“We’re not getting a lot of answers from people who should be able to answer questions,” said C.W. Wharton, plant manager at Texas Natural Meats in Lott, north of Austin. “Sid Miller — it appears he decided on his own. I called my extension agent at Texas A&M … They certainly didn’t approve it. We hear it won’t kill nothing but the pigs, but even the extension officers are saying if a dog or livestock eats it, it could kill them.”
A spokeswoman at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, which runs a statewide program on feral hog control, said the service was researching the product.
“As Kaput only recently received approval from the EPA and TDA, AgriLife Extension has not yet incorporated the use of this product into our educational programming,” AgriLife spokeswoman Lara Burhenn said. “We are exploring the benefits and risks associated with warfarin-based products such as Kaput and expect to eventually add this control method to the assortment of management options we educate landowners about.”
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which regulates hunting and trapping, posted a message on its website saying the department “has not yet evaluated the risks and impacts this toxicant may have on non-target species when used as a means to control feral hog populations.”
“TPWD is in the process of requesting the research information utilized by the EPA in recently approving the use of Kaput as a feral hog toxicant. Once an assessment of the research on Kaput is completed, TPWD hopes to express its position on the risks the use of this toxicant may have on Texas wildlife,” the posting says.
Scimetrics, the Colorado-based company that developed Kaput, says pigs are so sensitive to warfarin that the hog bait uses a concentration that’s only a fifth of what’s found in rodent bait. Warfarin residues in hog liver are below 5 milligrams per kilogram, the company said, compared with the daily dose of warfarin as a blood thinner of between two and 10 milligrams. What’s more, the bait turns fat deposits of the hog blue, making it easy to detect if the animal has eaten it, Scimetrics said.
“The scare with the hunters … they jumped the gun because they didn’t read the facts about warfarin,” Scimetrics President Richard Poche said. “It’s been around for human use since 1954. It revolutionized rodent control.”
While Louisiana also has registered with the EPA to use Kaput, Texas was to be the roll-out state, Poche said. He said the product was set to be released in late April or early May, but that those plans were now on hold until the “dust settles in Texas.”
“We’re strongly supporting Texas’ take on it … that it be handled by people that are trained and really know how to use a product such as this,” he said.
The EPA approved Kaput in January, and Miller made his announcement Feb. 21. Under his emergency rule, the TDA approved Kaput as a state limited-use pesticide, which means it can only be bought and administered under the direction of licensed applicators.
Will Herring, owner of the Wild Boar Meats processing plant in Hubbard, buys live and dead hogs to process for pet food and was readying to build a bigger plant when news about Kaput went viral.
On March 1, he filed a lawsuit against Miller and the Texas Department of Agriculture.
“Texas currently has a vibrant, growing economic segment focused on hunting feral hogs and the consumption and use of feral-hog meat and byproducts,” according to the complaint filed with in a state district court in Austin. “A warfarin-poisoning program will substantially reduce or destroy those businesses, including Wild Boar Meats.”
The complaint notes that Australia, which Miller said had used warfarin, ended up outlawing the chemical as a hog bait on grounds it took four to 17 days for the pig to internally bleed to death.
“Australia concluded that the method of death was so cruel, that use of warfarin should be outlawed — even though Australia is not a culturally “squeamish” country and even though Australia has more feral hogs than people,” the complaint says.
State District Judge Jan Soifer in Austin on March 2 issued a temporary restraining order suspending Miller’s rule until a court hearing scheduled for March 30.
“We sued Sid Miller and got a temporary restraining injunction invalidating Sid Miller’s emergency rule and thereby invalidating the registration of the product,” Herring said. “So the conclusion is it can’t be sold in Texas as of right now.”
TDA spokesman Mark Loeffler said the restraining order actually made it worse by allowing the product to be sold in Texas without restrictions outlined in Miller’s rule.
Miller stressed that Kaput was just another tool for a problem that had landowners across Texas in a state of desperation.
“This is for people who are having their crops destroyed,” he said in an interview. “Pecan farmers and peanut farmers and corn farmers that are losing their livelihood. And it will actually end up helping the wildlife people, because the hogs destroy quail nests, turkey nests. They eat the baby deer. They just almost eliminated the horny toad in Texas.”
But LeRoy Moczygemba, who has been trapping hogs since the 1980s and is often called to consult on trapping methods, said the unknowns about Kaput threaten to shut down export markets and scare off domestic pet food makers. That, he said, could put a damper on the trapping that accounts for about 60 percent of the hog control methods in Texas.
“If it messes up the European market, Southern Wild Game loses its market,” Moczygemba said. “It’s just going to crater. Nobody’s going to trap.”
Without an incentive to trap, the hog population will grow, he said. There are an estimated 2.5 million wild hogs causing at least $55 million in damages in Texas alone.
Moczygemba has seen the population explosion first-hand, once witnessing a sow give birth to 12 piglets.
According to Texas A&M University, wild hogs are the most prolific large mammals on earth, with each sow having an average of five to six piglets 1.5 times a year. Moczygemba believes the already rapid population growth has been accelerated by to two things: screwworm eradication cutting out a scourge that also affected hogs and domestic hog market busts that prompted some farmers to let domestic pigs loose. That domestic hogs have procreated with their wild cousins is evident in the multicolored hides seen on what are typically all black feral pigs, he said.
Roy Leslie, a rancher in Kendall County who annually processes seven to 10 feral hogs for personal consumption, said Miller should put more weight behind the use of other toxicants, such as the sodium nitrate that has been studied by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Kerr Wildlife Management Area.
“This is a common preservative used in many processed meats and is consumed by us all. It happens to be deadly to hogs. Delivery systems, residual amounts, and sodium nitrite’s benign effects on the environment have been carefully studied since 2011,” he said in an email. “If Sid Miller wants to blow his horn, let it be to the tune of sodium nitrite.”
Bring it on, Loeffler said.
“We support all efforts to solve the problem,” he said. “Warfarin, helicopter hunting, all tools in the toolbox.”