Michigan Genetic-Purity Hog Rule Going on Trial; Vonderplanitz Service
Michigan hog farmer Mark Baker will get his day in court over whether he can legally raise pigs the state claims are feral, genetically impure, and illegal under a special order it implemented in 2012.
Baker had filed suit against the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year challenging the state’s Invasive Species Order (ISO) prohibiting various types of so-called feral pigs under any conditions. He claimed the ISO violated constitutional separation-of-powers provisions and that the DNR lacked authority to implement the ISO. He also maintained that the ISO was unclear and contradictory.
The state countersued, claiming Baker violated the ISO, and ramping up the pressure by seeking $700,000 in fines.
Both parties then petitioned the state court for summary judgment, or dismissal of the charges, against the other.
In an 18-page ruling, state Judge William Fagerman actually went along with five of nine state requests for dismissal of charges, primarily on the ones contesting constitutional separation of powers and DNR's authority.
But, in refusing to dismiss four charges, the judge wound up moving the case to trial. The two key charges Judge Fagerman refused to throw out related to whether Baker has been treated differently from other hog producers, and whether the ISO is clear enough in its explanations of which hogs are banned.
“Genuine issues of material fact exist as to the application of the ISO to the Bakers with respect to Baker being treated differently than other domestic hog production facilities,” the judge wrote.
As to the ISO’s clarity, the judge stated: “A reasonable interpretation could be made that domestic hog production is completely excluded from the ISO. Factual issues exist in that respect. It is further complicated by the documentation and support from the memorandum of the director listing Sus scrofa Linnaeus as an invasive species involving activities that were not domestic hog production but rather hunting preserves.” In other words, the state provided evidence of problems with wild hogs on hunting preserves that don’t necessarily translate to a small hog farm such as Baker’s. Such confusion would seem to be inherent in a genetic purity campaign of the sort undertaken by Michigan.
Two other state moves for enforcing the ISO against Baker and ordering payment of the $700,000 of fines were denied by the judge, pending a trial.
In a statement on his web site, Baker said, "“We are satisfied with the decision. We’ll get our day in court. Not soon, but the DNR can explain straight tails and curly tails in court.”
So, for now, Baker can continue raising the approximately 70 hogs he has, pending the trial. The Michigan ISO has had the effect of decimating Baker's business of selling the high-quality pork meat to upscale Detroit-area restaurants. The restaurant owners have been fearful of being targeted by the state for potentially violating the order by buying from Baker. Baker has been speaking around the country to raise funds for his legal campaign to invalidate the ISO. No date has been set for the trial, nor is it clear if Baker will get his case in front of a jury, as he has requested, or have to settle for a judge’s ruling.
But simply getting a judge to side with him on a few key issues was a huge accomplishment. Judges tend to side entirely with the state, and against farmers, in such regulatory cases. And now the state’s intent in prohibiting hogs with certain genetic characteristics, raised by small specialty producers like Baker, and allowing those produced by large corporate producers, should get a public airing.
A memorial service for food rights activist Aajonus Vonderplanitz will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Episcopal Church at 6700 W. 83rd St. in Westchester, CA. People will gather beginning at 1 p.m. to socialize and snack; for further info, call Jim Ellingson at 323-913-9741.