for National Geographic News
If your family is sitting down to a ham dinner instead of turkey this Thanksgiving, there's a chance you might be eating a destructive alien invader.
Many Europeans and an increasing number of U.S. consumers are buying meat from wild boars. The specialty product is viewed by some as a more organic choice than farm-raised pork.
"I think it's a great health-conscious niche market," Dick Koehler, vice president of Frontier Meats based in Fort Worth, Texas, told the New York Times. "It has real potential for growth."
But not all pork producers share Koehler's enthusiasm.
Wild pigs currently roam 39 states in the U.S., growing upward of 500 pounds (227 kilograms) as they eat just about anything they can find, from farmers' crops to endangered turtles' eggs (related photo: "Sexy Poster Urges Turtle Conservation".)
The porkers damage property, threaten domestic pig farms, and may be creating human health risks, critics say.
"The pork industry has a lot of concern about feral pigs," said veterinarian Paul Sundberg of the National Pork Board, an industry group based in Des Moines, Iowa.
Wild pigs "can carry a number of diseases that can be transmitted to our domestic herds."
State and government agencies are also investigating whether wild pigs might play a role in spreading disease to crops that reach humans' plates.
Last month California health officials said feral hogs might be to blame for this summer's E. coli bacteria outbreak in spinach that killed three people and sickened 200 others.
Nose to Nose
Swine were first introduced to the United States by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539 as a live food source for his troops.
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