Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Wild Problems of Agriculture

The United States (and World) has a long history of intertwined resources and animals. We sow, harvest, and consume food from a variety of agriculture practices to fuel our need for human energy. Agriculture and wild animals are both historical in our existence as humans.

A recent article published in the Food Safety News ( described a scenario that highlights the relationship between some farmers in the nation and wild animals. Some farmers experience crop loss due to wild animals; however, crop loss is just one problem. Another is crop contamination due to food pathogens scattered among crops as a result of animal dwelling.

Crop damage from wild animals is an increasing problem throughout the nation. Take Indiana for example, a state known for contributing agricultural products in corn and soybeans. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service of 2002, over 65 percent of the state is farmland. Also, the state rakes in $1.5 billion annually from wildlife-related activities. [1] Because of the mix of healthy wild animal populations and farmland, crop damage is a problem for Indiana farmers. In fact, farmers around the nation are effected. An estimated crop damage and loss from ranchers and farmers exceed 4.5 billion annually. [2] Crop damage is caused from a multitude of species including but not limited to deer, raccoons, bears, bird species, and rabbits.

In addition to crop damage, wild animals can contaminate crops with pathogens. These pose health risks. One realm of agricultural products that are great affected by wild animal pathogens is fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables. These products are minimally processed and often not treated with a kill step, heat or chemical treatment. The risk occurs when wild animals rummage through crops. Outbreaks are related to fecal contaminations or surrounding watersheds after wild/ feral animals come into the area. [3] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) roughly estimates that plant commodities caused approximately 46% of domestically acquired food-borne illnesses from 1998 to 2008. [4] An example is the outbreak in 2006 of Escherichia coli 0157:H7. [5] The outbreak was traced back to a spinach crop in California contaminated from cattle and feral swine fecal matter. [6]

Wild animals present risks for crop damage and health.  While many other risks are present, such as ground water contamination, these two risks directly correlate to wild animals on the farmland. In realizing that farmers struggle with crop damage, states allow depredation permits to allow farmers to cull wild animals to prevent crop loss. Permitting often includes shooting, trapping, and relocating. The various methods often depend on the state. Some states require counseling and more detailed systems than others.

Iowa’s depredation system is comprehensive in giving farmers the option for advice, alternative plantings, counseling, and depredation permits. Indiana maintains a diverse system with multiple options including permits for harvesting, pesticides, relocating, and euthanizing. Ohio allows permitting for crop damage and nuisance wild life; online manuals and instructions are available. A system also exists for federally protected species that become a hindrance. For example, the United States Fish andWildlife Service offer permitting for migratory birds. Of course many of these concerns mentioned revolve around crop damage from wild animals and not health risks.

Depredation systems are reasonable; farmers can be greatly affected by crop damage. However, some states should focus more on proactive efforts rather than reactionary efforts. Examples of proactive efforts can be wildlife studies before plantings, barriers, fencing, and crop choice. This may require counseling and more interaction with the farmers, the land, and the animals. The proactive approach can be beneficial to decrease depredation conduct.

In today’s increasing concern for food safety, more attention can be paid to wild animal health risks in these state systems. As more light is shed on crop health risks, law may require more attention in the future. Just as counseling and proactive conduct can ease crop damage, health risks from cropland wild animals can be decreased as well. The consumer, the wildlife, and the farm can potentially benefit from such approaches in the future. 

[1] Brian J. MacGowan, Lee A. Humberg, James C. Beasley, Travis L. DeVault, Monica I. Retamoa, and Olin E. Rhodes, Jr., Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wildlife, Perdue University Extension Service, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Page 2.
[2] Brian J. McGowan, Lee A. Humberg, James C. Beasley, Travis L. DeVault, Monica I. Retamosa and Olin E. Rhodes, Jr., Corn and Soybean Crop Depredation by Wild Animals, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University, Extension Service, Page 2.
[3] Michele T. Jay-Russell, What is the Risk from Wild Animals in Food-borne Pathogen Contamination of Plants?, Address: Western Center for Food Safety, University of California, Online Version of the article found at:, Page 1.
[4] Painter JA, Hoekstra, Ayers T, Tauxe RV, Braden CR, Angulo FJ, et al. Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, United States, 1998-2008. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2013;19:407-13.
[5] Infra fn. 2 at page 2.
[6] Id.

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