The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has dropped its claim that a farmer’s hybrid heritage breed pigs are illegal and must be destroyed under the state’s invasive species order.
The agency also dropped its demand for a $10,000-per pig penalty from Mark Baker, who now will be free to raise and sell his animals, according to a report from the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
The state agency backed off its demands less than two weeks before a trial was supposed to begin March 11, the group said.
“DNR changed its position because it did not want a trial focusing on the merits of the declaratory ruling,” said Pete Kennedy, president of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.
“For two years, DNR has said the Bakers’ pigs are illegal, then two weeks before trial, they say the pigs are OK. Why didn’t the state take this position two years ago? The state should compensate the Bakers for the losses it has caused the farm.”
WND reported during the summer of 2013 when the case developed that authorities alleged that each of the farmer’s 70 pigs is a violation of the state’s invasive species order.
The state was demanding a fine of up to $10,000 per violation, or $700,000, for Baker’s actions in raising for sale 70 pigs “the state deems the wrong breed.”
It was in 2012 when Baker sued the state over the invasive species order. He had raised the pigs for years, yet suddenly the state told him they were illegal.
“The ISO supposedly was issued so the state could get rid of feral pigs; but the way DNR is interpreting the order, it could be applied to any domestically raised hog, threatening the livelihood of small, family farming operations,” the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund said.
The state agency had announced it would decide whether or note a pig was allowed based on its physical characteristics. The new rules, with the force of law, took effect April 1, 2012, and Baker has been fighting ever since.
“Because of the ISO, I have not been able to process or sell any pork in Michigan since April 2012 or sell the live pigs. This threatens the viability of my farm, my income and the health and well-being of my family,” Baker said at the time. “This order denies consumers access to the foods of their choice and violates property rights and the right to make a living. Farmers and other hog owners in Michigan must either get rid of their now ‘prohibited’ property or become felons.”
Kennedy called the maneuver by the state a “brazen power grab.”
“The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is using the state Invasive Species Act to expand its jurisdiction beyond hunting and fishing to farming operations,” he said.
Kennedy said the DNR has issued its own order to allow agents to “seize and destroy heritage breeds of pigs that farmers are raising; and DNR will not compensate farmers whose pigs are destroyed.”
“In the logic of the department, ‘Indemnification in (Michigan) statute is for livestock and invasive species are not livestock, and are therefore, not eligible for indemnification,'” he said.
But during a Feb. 26 hearing on the case, the Defense Fund said, Assistant Attorney General Harold Martin told Judge William Fagerman that Baker’s Russian Boar hybrids do not violate the ISO.
With the pigs’ legality no longer in dispute, the judge granted the department’s motion to dismiss Baker’s lawsuit.
“Even though Baker’s pigs are now legal, he lost the opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of the ISO for more than 200 other Michigan heritage breed hog farmers. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the DNR cannot take any future action against Baker for the pigs he is now raising on his farm,” the Defense Fund said.
It reported before the ISO went into effect that the farm’s Mangalitsa pork was highly prized by local chefs and consumers. After the order, Baker lost access to USDA facilities to process his pork. The ISO not only cost Baker his pork sales to restaurants but other farm products as well.
Baker’s case has already made an impact beyond Michigan. In January, the Indiana Board of Animal Health amended a regulation on wild hogs that partly based their legality on physical characteristics to clarify that the regulation did not apply to hogs raised on a farm.