Michigan Attacks Heritage Hogs; Farmers Fight Back

| 5/21/2013 10:52:00 AM

It has been fifteen months since heritage breed hog farmer Mark Baker sued the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to stop the implementation of an invasive species order (ISO). The swine ISO supposedly targeted feral swine but could be applied to any domestic pig not raised in confinement. Baker has yet to have his day in court and it is still not settled when his trial will take place. It is common for lawsuits like this to turn into wars of attrition; the state has virtually unlimited resources while the farmers are bled of theirs over the course of the litigation.

Since April 2012, Baker has not been able to slaughter, process or sell the meat from any pigs he hasMichigan heritage hog breeds are threatened by the State. raised and has not been able to sell live pigs in the state of Michigan either. Seizing an opportunity to take advantage of the farmer’s business shutting down, the Attorney General’s office recently made a “settlement offer” to Baker: The AG would not to seek penalties for the farmer’s alleged violations of the ISO if Baker would depopulate what remains of his prohibited swine. Baker’s response was one word – “NUTS!”

DNR’s “offer,” described by Baker as an ultimatum, was to not pursue civil penalties and costs of litigation if the farmer gave up his fight to overturn the swine ISO. Baker’s response was the same one that General Anthony McAuliffe gave General Heinrich Von Luttwitz at the Battle of the Bulge when the German commander requested that the American troops surrender.

The offer was made to Baker in an April 19 letter to Baker’s attorneys, Michelle Halley and Joseph O’Leary. In the letter, Assistant AGs Danielle Allison-Yokom and Kelly Drake state, “It is our position that your client is in possession of a number of swine prohibited by the Invasive Species Order . . . a person who possesses a prohibited animal is subject to a civil fine up to $10,000. It is our position that each animal constitutes a separate act for which a fine up to $10,000 is available . . . . It is also our position that the costs incurred by DNR in this matter including their attorney fees are recoverable.”

Even though the purpose of the ISO is to prevent the growth of the feral swine population in Michigan, the way DNR interprets the order any domestic pig raised in the outdoors could be prohibited under the order. In a Declaratory Ruling issued by DNR in 2011, the department declined to base its classification of prohibited swine on whether the animal was living under the husbandry of humans; instead, DNR chose to define prohibited swine based on whether the animals exhibited any of eight physical characteristics (listed in the ruling) and a ninth characteristic consisting of “characteristics not currently known to DNR.”  Under the ambiguous Declaratory Ruling, a pig with a “straight tail” could be prohibited and so could a pig with a “curly tail.” Only the white pork raised in confinement would not be subject to prohibition under the ISO; the Michigan Pork Producers Association has remained a strong supporter of the swine ISO since its inception.

The ISO is a threat to genetic diversity, property rights and the ability of small farmers to make a living. Fortunately to this point, the opposition to the order is not going away; it is only increasing. Three other lawsuits filed around the same time as Baker’s by farmer Roger Turunen, game preserve operator Greg Johnson and pet pig owner Matt Tingstad are still moving through the courts. Recently, Turunen’s wife Brenda, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, filed suit in federal district court challenging the ISO on the grounds that it violated a 1842 treaty between the United States and the Lake Superior Chippewa tribe that guaranteed the tribal members’ right to farm. The lawsuit opens up a new front in the effort to overturn the ISO. This is one fight where it looks like the state will not win a war of attrition.

7/14/2013 4:37:03 AM

This is totaly an unjust law, and it is the Big Corp pig farms that pollute and cause the stink.

The large Corp Farms need to be shut down and the owners imprisoned for the way they treat animals -- not the small farmer harrased and put out of business by paid off lawmakers passing Illegal laws.

The lawmakers involved in this pay off need to be in a pen with the rest of the trash.

BruceM are you part of one of the big Corp farms ??

7/12/2013 12:10:38 PM

While I sympathize with the farmer against the State, I wonder if the farmer has ever seen pigs that have gotten loose and the damage they do when they go feral. I have and it is extensive.  Fighting against an unjust cause is admirable but I don't see this as unjust.  Seems to me that the State gave the farmer a viable chance to resolve it but being belligerent is not the way to resolve any difference. Unless the farmer is independently wealthy and if he loses the cost is going to be enormous.  A just cause that is winable is one thing but pigs that can get out and go feral cause millions of dollars in damage, which I see is the crux of the situation here. I used to fish a trout stream when a pig farm moved into the area and the smell would gag me and people quit fishing that stream. I think when you raise certain species the burden should be on the pig farmer to not being offensive to neighbors and the environment.  

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