Pig Farmer Mark Baker, being Introduced by his Senator, Darwin Booher to the Michigan Senate Agricultural Committee

by Kimberly Hartke

Big Pork industry lobbyists, representing the Michigan Pork Producers Association, pulled Michigan state Senators out in the hall for private meetings, last Thursday.  At the time, Senator Darwin Booher was seeking support to delay the April 1st implementation of the controversial “feral pig” Invasive Species Order. The order, once implemented, gives the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the right to destroy any pigs raised outdoors, even on private land, that they judge to be prohibited.

The aggressive lobbying occurred following testimony by Mark Baker, of Bakers Green Acres, before the Michigan Senate Agriculture committee on Thursday, March 29, 2012. Only days later, on April 1, more than 2000 successful family farmers like Baker could face felony charges for harboring an “invasive species on their farms.”

Michigan Department of Natural Resources has small farmers and private game preserve owners in its sights, as it seeks to solve a perceived feral pig problem in the state. The state legislature has already given Michigan residents permission to shoot wild pigs on sight. Now, the agency wants to destroy domesticated pigs which, it believes, have the potential to escape and re-wild.

Mark Baker and three other affected parties are currently suing the DNR over the matter. Attorney, Joseph O’Leary has taken up their cause, and is representing all four plaintiffs in their grievances against the state agency. He says, “Suddenly, the agency charged with protecting wildlife on public lands wants to go on private property and regulate privately owned livestock. It is mind boggling. It would be funny, if it weren’t so scary.”

O’Leary explains, “Wildlife is owned by the state, it is the role of the DNR to regulate and control state property. Livestock on farms is privately owned and properly belongs in the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture. When a governmental agency blurs these lines, people had better wake up and take notice because at that point we are all in a lot of trouble.”

George Orwell’s Animal Farm,  Now Playing in Michigan

Any private property owner with pigs on their land is at risk for being considered a felon, in this Orwellian scenario.

Free Range Pigs to be Banned, while CAFOs Freely Operate.

Except, that is, for pigs raised in confined quarters. Pigs raised by farmers, outdoors in their natural habitat–not the pigs raised in factory barns–are the only ones considered by the agency as likely to “go rogue.” So, as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some pigs are more equal than others. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) farmers get a free pass and the little guy potentially is subject to having his pigs shot by the state, and may face fines and even jail, if they resist.

In the pork industry, pastured pigs are called “dirt pigs” and factory pigs are called “concrete pigs.”  Everyone knows that pigs are happiest in dirt. So, it is a terrible irony that a state agency charged with the welfare of wild animals is threatening to slaughter domesticated pigs enjoying a good life on private land.

Baker’s Testimony Creates a Stir in the Michigan Senate

On Thursday morning, March 29, Baker went before the Senate Agriculture committee to point out to the Senators that DNR’s Declaratory Ruling that details the characteristics of prohibited swine is biologically and scientifically illogical.

Baker’s State Senator, Darwin Booher arranged the hearing, out of a desire to protect the many small businesses at risk once the egregious ruling is enforced.

Here is a news report on Booher’s website about the proceedings, Booher Calls on Governor to Rescind Invasive Species Order on Swine.

After hearing Baker’s testimony, it seemed a number of the Senators were stirred up and ready to vote for reprieve for the small farms and private hunting preserves. They introduced language that same day, during the Senate’s full session that would have delayed enforcement of the ISO for 90 days.

See the video of Mark Baker’s Testimony

Agribusiness Gangs Up on Pasture Raising Farms

The Michigan Pork Producers Association (MPPA) is clearly one of the leaders of this effort. However, it seems from this lobbying letter, ALM Page 1ALM Letter Page 2 written last April, that numerous Agri-business interests have aligned themselves in favor of DNR running roughshod over private property rights and free trade. Michigan Milk Producers, Potato Growers of Michigan, Michigan Agri-Business Association, Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, GreenStone Farm Credit Services are also behind the measure.

Clearly, this case will have implications for other states. If Agribusiness succeeds in curbing free enterprise in Michigan, what is to stop them from doing it elsewhere? Tennessee State Representative, Frank Nicely, who chairs his state’s agricultural committee, expresses concern that the DNR act of declaring domesticated pigs as invasive species, if allowed to stand, will have serious negative impact on farm diversity and farm start-ups. Here is the letter, RepNicelytoRepDaley March 2012, sent to the Chairman of the Michigan House Ag Committee, asking him to firmly rebuff the DNR from overstepping their boundaries into animal agriculture.

Scott Everett, a lobbyist from the Michigan Animal Farmers Association explains, “Michigan Department of Natural Resources is charged with tending to wild animals, not domesticated animals, (livestock under the husbandry of humans). If they want to go after feral pigs running wild, that is fine, but they are going too far by infringing private property rights.” He goes on to say, “I’ve worked in and around the legislature  for going on 15 years now. In all my years working on agricultural issues, I have never seen a government agency behave like this.”

Big Pork Lobby Pressure Moves ISO Forward

Big Pig won the day, the Senators buttonholed in the hallway, withdrew their support for the delay. The ISO became enforceable this past Sunday, April 1, 2012.

Something very positive came out of Baker’s testimony, though. Senate and House members were so struck by the DNR’s  intended trespass on private property rights, that 16 of them co-signed this letter to the governor, Letter to Gov Snyder 3-30-12 asking him to intervene to end the threat to small farms and private landowners.

Unfortunately, on April 2, the day after the ISO went into effect numerous “dirt pig” farmers received visits by the DNR, wanting to inspect their farms, in each case, the farmer’s politely asked them to produce a warrant,” according to Mark Bakers’ attorney, Joseph O’Leary. So far, none of O’Leary’s clients has received such a visit.

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education and activist group which promotes consumer direct trade with local farmers.