The criminalization of heritage breed hogs continues in Michigan, and at great cost to the handful of small pig farmers and ranchers fighting back.
Largely considered an unchecked power grab by Big Ag pork producers to monopolize the market in Michigan, the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Invasive Species Order (ISO) ruling makes it illegal to raise, sell or even own a pig that falls under the DNR’s shamefully vague definition of “feral swine.” In a recent article for The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Pete Kennedy, Esq., explains:
Many of the characteristics listed describe just about any heritage breed of swine. Even more troubling, the DNR characteristics are often displayed in swine that are raised outside, not in confinement. The DNR order not only threatens the livelihoods of heritage breed hog farmers across the State of Michigan but it also sets a very dangerous precedent across the United States for those choosing not to raise animals in confinement.
The collective outrage of the few individual farmers who refuse to comply, politicians, and national groups seems to be making some strides. DNR head Rodney Stokes was recently dismissed from his position and there is a countermotion in place to have the ISO deemed unconstitutional.
There’s also been a fair amount of media attention. Almost since the story broke, filmmaker Kyle Miron has carefully documented interviews with farmers, court and Senate appearances, and the heartbreaking result of “depopulating” the livestock. He has shared the latest installment of his Hogwash series with us (click on the image above to watch).
However, it seems the DNR is perfectly comfortable sitting back and letting the outcry die out. Kennedy writes:
The strategy of the governor and DNR looks to be waiting out the opposition to the ISO, hoping the issue will quietly go away. To help ensure that does not happen, an online petition has been set up so those opposing the ISO can fax Governor Snyder asking him to order DNR to rescind the ISO.
Kennedy goes on to say:
During the last couple of months, DNR has been very quiet in the media about the ISO; however, make no mistake about it, they are moving ahead with its implementation. DNR has filed counterclaims against heritage breed hog farmers Mark Baker and Roger Turunen, game ranch operator Greg Johnson and swine pet owner Matt Tingstad, seeking court orders for each to depopulate their pigs and to pay civil fines for possessing prohibited “invasive species swine.
Mark Baker, in a recent email to me, agrees:
The overall sense is that the state has overstepped their bounds and we have a very good case against them. They have however, pushed our court date back a hundred and twenty days, probably in hopes that we would lose momentum. This, in my view, is a last ditch attempt to thwart the public. We can not let that happen. We need to double our efforts to keep this issue alive.
All of these efforts are prohibitively expensive. Mark’s savings account is being emptied, daily farm work is being dutifully picked up by all family members and precious time and energy are directly funneled toward the legal battle. If you’d like to donate some much-needed financial assistance to the Baker family, visit their farm’s website and click on the “Help Defend the Hogs!!” link.
Mark cautioned me that Big Ag coalitions like the Agriculture Leaders of Michigan (ALM) won’t take a loss lightly, and will most likely “pull out all the stops” to keep a majority share of the multi-billion dollar food industry theirs… and theirs alone. He sees his case as “the first skirmish in a war.”
It’s rumored that several states are waiting to see what the outcome of Michigan’s ISO battle will be… and whether or not they can easily implement similar rulings on their own turf. Mark says, “This will affect every aspect of local food production. We are seeing a swell of fury from across the nation, but it is never enough because as we swell, so does our adversary.”
I asked Mark if he were to have a slogan or tagline for this, what would it be? He replied, “Welcome to the resistance.” It might sound overblown, but issues like this and GMO labeling continue to underscore the need for people to be informed about and engaged in their personal food chains. Mark offers the encouraging thought, “The solution to this is not a head-to-head battle with the Monsantos of the world. It needs to be a more passive resistance in that we help prepare people to be more self-sufficient.”
In fact, the Baker family is in the midst of implementing a new in-residency program at Baker’s Green Acres called Anyone Can Farm. Mark’s wife (and biggest ally) Jill explains on the farm’s website:
One of the best ways to have alternatives to big ag’s idea of food is to raise your own. The hard part with animals is transitioning from pen to freezer.
…if DIY butchering isn’t your thing, we can help you. The more people who are feeding themselves and a few family and friends, the more food security we have.
They hope to have the first Anyone Can Farm session this fall, you can visit their website for updates and details.
THE FILMMAKER: Kyle Miron, a filmmaker and photographer from rural Indiana, decided to dedicate his talents and creative vision to food sovereignty – an area of focus that will greatly affect the well-being and survival of future generations. Miron picked up his first video camera in January of 2012. Since then he has established The Frontiersmen Media Group and has been working with farmers on a weekly basis helping to strengthen the voice and the commitment to a truth that must not be forgotten: Anyone Can Farm.
Photo Credit: Baker’s Green Acres
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