Fox: 'I farm pigs for the quality. That's the point.'
Dan Fox of Heritage Tavern is unusual among chefs in that he is also a pig farmer. Fox raises heritage breeds prized for their flavor and serves them in his restaurant. He also sells pork to other area chefs.
Or he did, until the wholesale business was suspended last month when the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) learned he was selling the meat without a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan. The plan, required of wholesalers, outlines a business' response in the case of disease or disaster. The pork Fox sold had been processed safely in a licensed facility, and the chef says he will resume sales next month, once his HACCP plan is approved.
After a Nov. 7 report in the Wisconsin State Journal indicated that DATCP was investigating Fox's licensing of the wholesaling business, an anonymous tip called in to DATCP apparently claimed that Fox was sending scraps, possibly containing animal products, from his restaurant to feed his pigs.
DATCP asked Dane County health inspectors to investigate. Fox says that the claim was not true. "The inspectors arrived on the basis of this tip, and we discussed procedure and labeling of scrap buckets in the kitchen," he says.
An ensuing Wisconsin State Journal article of Nov. 29 stated that Fox may have "included animal products" in "table scraps" from the restaurant to feed his pigs, and then sold or served those pigs to customers as well as to wholesale accounts "all without the necessary state permits."
The article's conflation of the HACCP plan issue with the question of feeding scraps, which had only become a question later, has Fox riled.
"I farm pigs for the quality," says Fox. "That's the point." Not only would feeding untreated meat scraps be against the law and a health risk, he says, but "any meat would compromise the flavor of the finished product. To claim that we would be putting meat scraps in the recycled material is ridiculous."
In Wisconsin, as in 21 other states nationwide, feeding any post-consumer scraps to pigs is prohibited. In the other states, as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, post-consumer scraps can be used, but only if they are heat-processed, as mandated by the 1980 Federal Swine Protection Health Act. The law is intended to prevent meat scraps from reentering the food supply and spreading disease, as when a 2001 outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Britain was linked to the practice.
"Pre-consumer" scraps refers to uncooked vegetable peelings that are produced in cooking preparation.
Paul McGraw, state veterinarian and administrator of the Animal Health Division for DATCP, explains: "If he is processing vegetables and he chops off the salad ends, cuts off the ends of carrots, and sets those aside -- and it hasn't been cooked or put on a plate -- those can be fed to the pigs. It's table waste that is of concern."
State law allows only this kind of pre-consumer vegetable scraps. Also of concern would be any bakery, dairy or eggs, which the law considers meat.
Raechelle Cline, public information officer for DATCP, clarifies: "If it's in a restaurant setting, milk, cheese and eggs are not allowable. If it's a creamery that has pasteurized milk that is reaching expiration, and they want to feed it to swine, they can."
The Wisconsin statute 95.10 Cline cites starts: "Beginning July 1, 1968, it is unlawful for any person to feed public or commercial garbage to swine, or to deposit or receive such garbage on any premises where swine are kept, and no swine having fed on such garbage may be sold or removed from the premises."
DATCP cleared Heritage Tavern for separating kitchen vegetable scraps to feed pigs, but Fox says he no longer does so: "Unfortunately, after what has happened, I'm worried about someone contaminating it on purpose and then taking a cellphone picture."
Fox will have a meeting with DATCP concerning his HACCP plan in the next few weeks.
"There's a problem that misinformation is making people afraid of quality meat raised responsibly," says Fox. "It's a tragedy because we need to be asking ourselves how we can recycle, how we can protect our environment and food supply."
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten, much of it ending up in a landfill. The EPA estimates that in 2011, the country created 36 million tons of food waste; just 4% of that ended up being used for animal food or composting.
It's in this context that there's been a renewed conversation about recycling food scraps to pigs on smaller-scale farms. Internationally, there is a growing movement to return to scrap-feed by well-known nose-to-tail advocates like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
"Every scrap recycled counts," says Fox. "Here we were trying to do this progressive thing, and the [State Journal] article really alarmed people. I've worked with an animal veterinarian to balance the nutritional content for the pigs. I'm concerned for their health and happiness and then, ultimately, about their flavor."