Message from Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund to Michigan Campaign For Liberty
Dear Michigan Campaign For Liberty,
The local food movement is under attack in Michigan. In a brazen power grab threatening the livelihood of small farmers across the state, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is using the state Invasive Species Act to expand its jurisdiction beyond hunting and fishing to farming operations.
On April 1, 2012, an Invasive Species Order (ISO) that DNR issued in 2010 went into effect.
The ISO prohibits the possession of various breeds of swine; DNR stated that the order was necessary "to help stop the spread of feral swine and the disease risk they pose to humans, domestic pigs, and wildlife as well as their potential for extensive agricultural and ecosystem damage."
The ISO allows DNR to seize and destroy heritage breeds of pigs raised by Michigan farmers; DNR will not compensate farmers whose pigs are destroyed. Possession of prohibited swine after April 1 is a felony with penalties of up to two years in jail and $20,000 in fines.
According to DNR's interpretation of the ISO, any pig in Michigan whether wild or domestic could be prohibited. Instead of using common sense in limiting the order to feral hogs that roam in wild and unfenced public and private lands, DNR is basing its interpretation as to what constitutes a prohibited swine on eight physical characteristics (phenotype) listed in its Declaratory Ruling issued on the swine ISO in December 2011. The Ruling lists a ninth "characteristic" consisting of "characteristics not currently know to" DNR. The characteristics include ones involving underbelly fur, tail structure, ear structure, and skeletal appearance. Using these characteristics, any pig in the state could be prohibited under the ISO.
Mark Baker, a hog farmer in Marion, is one of four people who have filed lawsuits to stop the implementation of the ISO. As pointed out in Baker's complaint, "There is nothing inherently vicious or unhealthy about the breeds of pigs targeted by the ISO. Any pig, whether used in 'domestic hog production' or not, will exhibit the same problematic behaviors if allowed to become feral, that is, to live outside the husbandry of humans. It is the state of being feral which causes the problems identified by the DNR in the ISO and declaratory ruling, not any particular breed of pig."
There are two political agendas at work behind the issuing of the ISO. According to Baker's complaint, DNR has tried unsuccessfully for many years to have the legislature eliminate hunting preserves and estates. In these facilities, privately owned pigs and other animals live in a contained natural environment where customers pay for a chance to hunt and harvest these animals. Further the DNR does not collect licensing fees from these contained private preserves which they do get from hunters on public and other private land.
Implementing the ISO would be a step for DNR towards its eventual goal of eliminating the hunting preserves.
There is evidence that feral swine are not the problem that DNR claims. The Michigan legislature passed a shoot-on-sight law allowing feral pigs to be hunted. Testimony presented to the Michigan Senate Agriculture Committee on March 29 revealed that only 43 feral swine were killed in Michigan in 2011; by contrast, 140,000 deer were killed in the state during that time.
The other agenda at work is that of the Michigan Pork Producers Association (MPPA) who has publicly supported the ISO. In a February 27 editorial published in the Manistee Advocate newspaper, State Senator Darwin L. Booher mentioned, "The small farmers I have talked to wonder why the DNR is singling out their pigs and is joining forces with the Michigan Pork Producers Association on this issue. They believe the association wants all pigs to be raised in confinement facilities, and the best way to achieve that is to make it illegal to raise certain swine, especially those offering alternatives to the white pork raised in confinement." At this time, it is certain only that swine raised in confinement facilities would be exempt from the ISO. For the confinement operations, the ISO could effectively reduce or eliminate the competition.
On March 29, there was an effort in the Michigan legislature to extend the effective date ninety days; but lobbyists for MPPA were successful in killing the measure.
Implementation of the ISO will deny farmers their property rights and the right to make a living. It will reduce or eliminate customer access to heritage breed pork, a product that has become increasingly popular in restaurants across the state. All that could be left for consumers would be factory pork produced by confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) pork.
The ISO will impact farmers and consumers around the nation; the National Pork Producers Association and government agencies in other states are watching to see whether DNR can get away with enforcing the ISO.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has the power to rescind the order. People need to call, fax or email the governor demanding that he immediately rescind this unconstitutional ISO. Below are suggested talking points and you can click here for sample letter.
Governor Rick Snyder, State Capitol
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909
PHONE: (517) 335-7858
FAX: (517) 335-6863
1. DNR needs to stay off farms
2. DNR needs to repeal the Invasive Species Order to not include ALL swine that are under the husbandry of humans no matter how they are raised.
4. The order denies consumers their rights to access foods of their choice.
5. The order violates farmers' property rights and the right to make a living.