Late last week, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) demanded the payment of $700,000 from a small farm family of ten and the destruction of 70 of their pigs at Baker’s Green Acres, operated by Mark and Jill Baker and their eight children. This action followed Mark Baker’s comments during testimony opposing a new rule at a state congressional hearing where he identified himself as owner of three hogs deemed illegal (because of their looks). He understood the new rule, called an Invasive Species Order (ISO) to mean the state would threaten him with fines, criminal charges and a two-year prison term and an order to destroy his animals. Baker answered the ISO by filing a lawsuit against the state agency for the damages and their reckless behavior.
In the latest action on Thursday, June 27—legal papers sent to the court say the state demands $700,000 in fines and destruction of the farm animals—all based on how the pigs look. These actions are not just against Mark and Jill– it is also against their children and their animals, too. This is one of five lawsuits against MDNR and their new ISO (several more suits are pending).
The Baker’s small farm business has nearly been ruined and at jeopardy now are their pastured poultry and beef production for local families who want want farm fresh, healthy food. The Baker’s have set up an interent crowdfunding account through Pledgie to handle the donations (that are only trickling in as of now) to meet family needs, feed pigs and fix the tractor and for the small fees being charged by an independent attorney.
(Below you will be asked to pledge your support to help the Baker’s by donating to help win this case for all farmers nationwide)
George Orwell, author of 1984 also wrote Animal Farm where farm animals revolted because of their treatment and after a new policy was issued: “All animals are created equal, except some are more equal than others.” Orwell coined the term doublespeak, a language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words so as to deceive—where the same word can have different meanings in the same paragraph or where new phrases are made up with no definitions–commonly used in legalese. Doublespeak is common among politicians and state bureaucracies in their sales campaigns for new programs to protect us from potential harm. Hear what it sounds like to me.
Can you imagine having your farm animals confiscated and destroyed because of the way they look? Due to a new rule Michigan DNR can enter a private farm and kill hogs that look different than those approved types. To make their point, the DNR has gone after this farm family of ten, just because the farmer has three pigs that look like what is loosely nicknamed Russian boars—a type of pig made “illegal” recently.
The new rule, as described in the Invasive Species Order ( ISO) and declaratory ruling — is touted to control feral pigs (roaming wild) the state says–yet these pigs are already under control by hunters. The ISO clearly states can mean any type of pig. If a pig has a curly tail or a straight tail, ears that are with erect or floppy, striped piglets, hair on the underbelly, certain colors including being black, then these are “wild or feral hogs” even if on a farm behind fences. Approved, exempted swine include those raised in huge hog houses called CAFOs (Confined or concentrated animal feeding operations (commonly called factory farms) and the young pigs raised by farmers under contact with CAFOs contract. These CAFO owners have contracts with the giant food processors controlled by four companies. (The largest US pork producer is Smithfield –sold last month to the Chinese.)
Mark and Jill Baker and their eight children bought farmland in Michigan after he retired from 20 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. His goal was to produce specialty pork from an unusual heritage breed called Mangalitsas that he breeds. His nutrient-dense “red meat” pork and lard is of the quality that is highly prized throughout the world and throughout this part of Northern Michigan by fine chefs and restaurants. Mark decided “farm livin’ is the life for me” and bought his green acres so he and Jill could raise their children on a farm and teach them these old skills. They also have educational programs to teach others they can farm too—and a right to farm– and produce healthy food locally in the old humane way which enhances the environment and the health of those consumers who choose this type of fresh farm food. The dilemma they are facing was broadcast last year on NPR with a 11-minute radio segment on Hog Wild.
As crazy as it sounds, it is clear from what has been said, the state’ rationale is that this type of operation may be threat to human health and the environment and a financial threat to the state’s big pork industry. But currently, rivers of pig diarrhea are flowing through CAFOs in 15 states with a new type of virus—similar to the Chinese CAFO outbreak—caused by conditions within these indoor operations. In 2009, the swine flu, later called H1N1, was shown to originate from Mexican swine CAFOs. Studies have shown serious respiratory illnesses and higher infant mortality occur near CAFOs.
The ISO –which has the force of law — was decided last year by DNR staff in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA), the Michigan Pork Producer‘s Association (CAFO operators) and other Big Food corporations and it’s not just routing out wild hogs. They redefined what the term “feral pig” is rather than using the real English definition in use for at least three centuries. Read the Invasive Species Order ( ISO) and declaratory ruling
The rule allows DNR to call any type of swine as being an illegal feral (wild roaming) pig even if they are within a fence and grown by a farmer for food production. Exemptions are for domestic hog production but there is no definition for this term in Michigan law or listed in the search at the MDNR or MDA. All hogs in a CAFO or raised indoors are approved but not all hogs that pasture outdoors on a sustainable farm.
According to the state DNR and Big Pork written statements, these pigs, including the Baker’s, are a threat to public health and the environment and “the commercial pork industry”. Some states have issued to themselves special pre-approved open burning air pollution permits on farm lands so that state agencies can enter the farm and burn animal carcasses killed by them—if a herd is suspected to be potentially infected with a particular type of listed organism.
This week a Journal correspondent called the program director with MDNR, a wildlife biologist, to discuss the meaning of the new rule for an Indiana heritage hog farmer who may want to relocate to Michigan. The DNR agent gave him false and misleading information by emphasizing that the ISO pertains only to the Russian boar. She could not tell him the definition of domestic hog production (which is exempt) when asked three times. But this is not what the rule says- it even includes cross-breeds and descendents of Russian boars–and that includes many of these domesticated heritage breeds—many of which have some of the looks of the Russian boar. It does not apply to only Russian boars, like the MDNR program director stated, because last week MDNR is demanding all 70 of Baker’s pigs be destroyed because they are part-Russian.
An en environmental expert from Ohio, a former state regulatory and enforcement agent provided us with his opinions. He requested anonymity and told us some small family farmers are at a tipping point.
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Eventually someone in going to get hurt, and I don’t just mean state and county agents, I mean women and children. They are getting well organized in Michigan and other states. What seems to be occurring more now is employees inside the agencies are speaking out in public meetings and on their jobs against their own agency directives and refusing to carry them out. In my view these actions can be a form of religious persecution. They tend to target large families that homeschool, independent-minded, liberty lovers and that are religious. They believe they are doing right by choosing to farm with older and healthier methods and is a large part of their mission and ministry.
There are a number of legal problems the MDNR will have to deal with—but it is possible the judge will side with the state and not allow this to be mentioned in court. These are some of the disturbing findings of the Journal investigation that included published and internal documents, public hearings and interviews with both sides.
- The staff at DNR in cooperation with the outside big business organizations developed the ISO. It was finalized and an Open House was given to inform farmers of the rule in. The DNR failed to follow their own legal procedures of public notice and a 60-day comment period and public meetings for those affected and interested parties.
- During the recorded Open House to inform farmers of their options, questions were not allowed and they were refused an answer. After the first logical and polite question, the Program Director snapped “These questions will be handled one-on-one after the meeting. We are not going to get confrontational here” she said.
- When Baker finally saw the final ISO, he gave testimony before the state representatives at Lansing showing why he opposed the rule. Then MDNR decided to target him with enforcement actions. According to the MDNR Program Director, Baker was targeted because he “spoke out publicly and openly admitted” he used boars that looked like what is nicknamed a Russian boar—as reported by our correspondent from Indiana.
- After filing a law suit against the state for their threats against him and his family, MDNR offered to settle and drop all criminal charges and the fines as long as he destroyed all of his pigs—not just the “Russian” boars. Baker and his attorney responded “no thanks”. Baker thinks the state wants to settle this privately and confidentially to avoid certain evidence he has in writing to become public and blowing up into another state-wide scandal.
- After receiving the response to the settlement, last week MDNR and the state’s attorneys and their legal consultants prepared a laboriously lengthy letter to the court demanding the $700,000 from the family and the destruction of all their pigs – citing numerous regulations and “legal” decisions of the past.
- The DNR has stated it will identify potential violators through their database (they know who is growing these heritage breeds) and will be targeted for inspection.
What is really going on? Most small farmers are of the CAFO owner associations and the big processors they supply are systemically being eliminated through a pattern of corrupt activities to control more of the market for many years. This is defined by federal racketeering and corrupt organizations statutes (RICO). This can be accomplished through heavily influencing the regulatory process and adversely affecting small farmers and using the enforcement powers of the state to carry out these goals. In fact, a federal investigation of these activities is supposed to be ongoing through the Department of Justice as announced three years ago.
Some farmers and consumers think it is also a threat to independence, and their ability to choose nutritious farm fresh foods like meats, poultry and raw milk for families direct from the farmer they know. They want the freedom to choose who they want to do business with versus a supermarket. Some of them say it is a threat to the ability to choose their vocation and the right to farm. A few others add it threatens their right to practice their religious beliefs. Ultimately, this may lead to only one type of allowed hog, a diseased Federal Hog that can only be raised indoors–which can be detrimental to public health, the environment and local economies– resulting in a loss of many jobs. The MDNR actions are in violation of the intent of the federal law on invasive species and, the international Biodiversity Treaty and Endangered Species Act.
Personal Liabilities for the Individual State Employees
State laws allow individuals whose rights are trampled by overzealous bureaucrats to sue government employees and elected officials and hold them personally responsible for illegal or unethical actions taken during the course of their official duties. This may be effective in slowing down the runaway regulatory freight train.
Organizations plan to sue individuals involved in what they call illegal and unethical acts. It is common knowledge among farmers that there is anti-competitive collusion by the state DNR and Department of Agriculture with corporations who control the Michigan pork, milk and poultry market. In our interview with Pete Kennedy, Esq, an attorney with Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund agreed: “This fits the pattern of other actions against farmers in Michigan and throughout the U.S.”
If successful the named employees will need to defend themselves and would require them to dip into their personal savings, retirement plans and other assets to pay fines, damages and attorney fees. It will also give a hundreds of employees within MDNR, MDA and Michigan Department of Health who object to the ongoing farm police state tactics all the more reason to refuse directives from their superiors and organize from within.
Like in State of Wisconsin v Vernon Hershberger raw milk case in May, a legal win for the Bakers will cause small farmers to Praise the Lard while the Michigan assistant attorney general and their legal staff could walk away roasted and go “wee wee all the way home”.
All are welcome and invited to celebrate farm fest at Bakers Green Acres the weekend of July 12 for a pig roast –pigs MDNR wants destroyed. All the friends and supporters within the MNDR, MDA and the department of health are also invited. Come and meet the farmed and “dangerous”. But first, readers should know they need to bring home some bacon to the Baker’s by donating a few dollars.
David Michael has recently retired from a local health department as a contract pollution engineer for Ohio EPA. He has helped farmers facing enforcement actions and has taught many seminars on food, nutrition and raw milk in the evenings while working at the health department. He is the publisher of the Journal of Natural Food and Health and author of the Locator eGuide to Finding Safe, Local Raw Milk and Real Food Too!
You can bring home the bacon to the Bakers!
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This story had received good media coverage last year, including farm and food blogs, farm news and papers and broadcast media and lots of buzz and chatter on social networks. Even NPR did an excellent 11-minute radio segment on Hog Wild. But now, at the most critical time money and time is running real short, it seems there is little or no media coverage or internet stories as of today. Use the Share button and let your network of contacts know about this. If you are a blogger, use some extracts from this article and point them back here for the full story.
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