Using pigs as bug control in an orchard?

Today the Associated Press reports that a farmer in Michigan has been using more than two dozen pigs in his organic apple orchards in his quest to control the plum curculio:

Jim Koan has gone hog-wild in his battle against a beetle that threatens his 120-acre organic apple orchard. [The] porkers patrol his orchard, gobbling down fallen, immature apples containing the beetle’s larvae. After a successful trial run late last spring, he and some researchers at Michigan State University are preparing for year two of the experiment at AlMar Orchards & Cidery in eastern Michigan.

They hope their work will someday help fruit growers throughout the world reduce the use of pesticides while diversifying their agricultural operations, as he is doing. He plans to periodically sell off the offspring of his four original hogs, keeping only what he needs.

Interesting move, definitely thinking outside the box, as organic producers must, when it comes to pest control. I wonder if there is a segment of the research that looks at the microbiological differences between the fresh apples (and the drops) on his farm and other producers not using the hogs.  This pest reduction plan might be introducing new food safety risks that weren’t there before.

Feral pigs seemed to play a part in the the 2006 spinach outbreak. Last March the FDA said: "Potential environmental risk factors for E.coli O157:H7 contamination at or near the field included the presence of wild pigs, the proximity of irrigation wells used to grow produce for ready-to-eat packaging, and surface waterways exposed to feces from cattle and wildlife."

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.