A southern Missouri lawmaker last weekend proposed doubling the funding for the state’s Share the Harvest program and wants to include feral hog meat next year along with venison.
Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, had moved to defund the program earlier in the budget process to keep the $150,000 the state appropriated for the Missouri Department of Conservation from going to the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The latter is a not-for-profit organization that Ross has accused of being a front group doing political activism for the department.
On Sunday, Ross added an amendment that would double the program’s funding to $300,000 but require the department to distribute the funds directly to meat processors rather than going through the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The amendment passed the budget committee by a voice vote on Sunday.
Missouri hunters donated 348,535 pounds of venison to Share the Harvest during the last deer season, including 6,795 whole deer, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. They’ve donated more than 4 million pounds of venison since the program started in 1992.
The federation uses department funds along with other money to reimburse the more than 100 meat processors statewide who butcher deer and package the venison hunters donate to the program. The meat is then given to food banks and food pantries. The Missouri Department of Conservation is just one of several groups that helps fund Share the Harvest, with businesses and other organizations also contributing.
Ross argues the Conservation Federation of Missouri is using taxpayer money to advocate on behalf of the state department, though the federation has said it just distributes most of state money to meat processors, keeping 15 percent as an administrative fee. Tyler Schwartze said the federation raises almost all of its money from memberships, sponsorships, business partnerships and fundraising events.
"The administrative fees received from MDC are less than 2 percent of our total annual revenue," he recently told the Globe.
When asked recently about the characterization by Ross as a "front group," Schwartze would only say that the federation has an an "84-year rich outdoor history preserving our wildlife and natural resources through advocacy, education and partnerships such as Share the Harvest."
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said that while Ross is supporting the funding, that's not the same as restoring the program. The Conservation Federation of Missouri started the program and has been running it successfully for years, he said.
“Putting it under MDC, who has not been running it, is not going to lead to the same results,” Kendrick said.
Deputy Director Aaron Jeffries previously said the department could run the program, but he questioned why a government agency would do it when a private group has been doing it successfully for nearly 30 years.
“We have a well-tested program that’s run by a private entity now, and this amendment would give that to a government agency to run,” Jeffries said on Sunday.
Lawmakers also had more questions about including feral hogs in the program, which Ross said he wants to do because it’s more meat than can be used to feed people and because the department leaves behind the carcasses of the feral hogs it kills, he said.
“This is nothing less than point-source pollution when you’ve got 20 to 40 to 100 hogs in a trap and conservation comes and kills them all, and they leave them lay right there, and rot,” Ross said.
Several representatives and Jeffries also questioned the safety of eating and processing meat from feral hogs, which have been known to carry diseases that can infect people if the meat isn’t dressed and cooked properly. Ross said there are people who eat feral hog meat and that, like any meat, it needs to be cooked properly.
Ross said there may need to be some separation between processing feral hogs and livestock, but it can still be done. Processors wouldn’t be required to take the feral hog meat, but they don’t have any trouble finding processors for the deer meat, he said.
Jeffries said livestock have to walk into the processing plant for inspection, and carting live hogs would slow the department’s eradication efforts. State law has been changed to allow dead deer to be brought into processing operations, he said.
Rep. Greg Sharpe, R-Ewing, said he doesn’t understand how the Missouri Department of Conservation can get away with leaving hog carcasses to rot but that processors wouldn't want to take the meat. Pork is also a relatively cheap meat, and he said that isn’t the most cost-effective way to feed people.
Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said it seemed the argument against the amendment was that people couldn't be trusted to cook the meat properly. It may not be a perfect solution, but it’s better than leaving the hogs to rot, he said.
Ross said he was open to changing the language of his amendment when it’s taken up on the House floor later this week. The Senate will have its say after the House approves its version of the budget.