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House lawmakers approve bill requiring more study for hog poison

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated to note that the Texas House gave final approval to House Bill 3451 on April 18.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s push to use a warfarin-based poison to kill feral hogs in the state has a long list of opponents that now includes more than two-thirds of the Legislature where Miller once served.

House lawmakers voted 128 to 13 to preliminarily approve legislation Monday that would require state agency or university research before the use of lethal pesticides on wild pigs. A companion bill in the Senate has 10 co-sponsors. (Update, April 18: The House gave final approval to the legislation, House Bill 3451, in a 127-12 vote on Tuesday.

In late February, Miller, a Republican, announced an emergency state rule change allowing the use of the warfarin-based poison Kaput, which was recently approved by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill wild pigs. “The ‘Hog Apocalypse' may finally be on the horizon,” said Miller, who as a state legislator authored a 2011 measure known as the “pork-chopper bill” that allowed the hunting of hogs by helicopter.

At varying concentrations, Warfarin is used as a rat poison and a blood thinner in humans. It causes hogs that consume it to die of internal bleeding, a process that the product’s label says can take four to seven days.

Under House Bill 3451 from state Rep. Lynn Stucky, R-Denton, before approving a feral hog poison for use the state would have to conduct a study on its potential negative impact on other wildlife.  

A coalition of hunters, animal rights advocates, conservationists and meat processors has mobilized against the use of the poison. The Texas State Rifle Association, Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association are all among the groups that support the bill.  

Agriculture and Livestock Committee Chairman Tracy King was among the 13 House lawmakers who opposed the bill. During a brief debate on the floor, the Batesville Democrat raised questions about the costs associated with studying the poison. The Texas Farm Bureau and the South Texas Cotton and Grain Association both testified against the bill during a March committee hearing. 

A state district judge temporarily blocked the agriculture department's emergency rules in March after a Hill County meat processing company, joined by the Texas Hog Hunters Association and the Environmental Defense Fund, brought a lawsuit arguing it would hurt the meat and hunting industries. The company, which buys feral hog carcasses to sell to pet food manufacturers, said the proposal had already caused an out-of-state client to pull out of contract negotiations.

Kaput must be dispensed through special feeders — also made by Kaput's manufacturer, Colorado-based Scimetrics — that have weighted lids intended to limit other animals’ access. The label’s use instructions warn against allowing livestock to graze or hunting in areas around the baited feeders until at least 90 days after removing the poison. Carcasses must be buried 18 inches under the ground or, if that’s not possible because of environmental conditions, removed from site.

The agriculture department has defended the state rules, saying they impose stricter restrictions than the EPA, including limiting use of the poison to state-licensed pesticide applicators. 

A spokesman for the department, Mark Loeffler, said he is aware of the bill but had no immediate comment. Loeffler said last month that Scimetrics “conducted almost a decade’s worth of studies” leading up to EPA approval.

“Commissioner Miller feels it is not appropriate to use taxpayer money to entirely assume the cost of product research and testing for a proprietary commercial pesticide,” Loeffler said in a written statement. “He also believes taxpayers will not support state government conducting research that is duplicative of private research for a commercial product.”

Disclosure: The Texas Farm Bureau and the Environmental Defense Fund have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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