AFP AUDIO INTERVIEW
Dean Moyer tells the story of his battle with the United States Department of Agriculture, as he tries to save his 21-year family farm from the clutches of, as he sees it, a federal agency that has been hijacked by animal rights activists determined to destroy everything he and his family built from the ground up, in this eye-opening interview (28:48).
USDA Looks to Crush Family Farm
By Dave Gahary
The American entrepreneurial spirit and can-do ethos is under attack again from another federal alphabet agency bent on destroying a thriving business in the Keystone State with a potential $450,000 fine outrageously disproportionate to the alleged infractions cited in the case. This time it’s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), with over 100,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $150 billion, squaring off against a small family rodent breeder farm in rural Pennsylvania, with nine employees and a tiny fraction of the USDA’s budget.
Sand Valley Farms, Inc., (SVF) run by Dean and Carol Moyer for over 21 years, is in the business of raising a variety of rodents for sale as feeders and pets. The Moyer’s plight was brought to the attention of this writer by a former target of the USDA, John and Judy Dollarhite from Missouri, who faced a $4 million fine for selling more than 150 pet rabbits in a year, a venture they began to teach their teenage son the value of a dollar. AMERICAN FREE PRESS wrote about this disturbing matter last year.
During an exclusive interview with Dean Moyer, AFP asked how he got involved in this type of business.
After getting laid off during the Federal Reserve-instigated recession of the early ‘90s, Moyer got a part-time job working at a pet store.
“I got into this because, while ordering animals for the store, you couldn’t get them at certain times of the year, it was impossible; I’d order 50 mice and get five. So, I thought, well, I was kind of jobless at the time, so I figured, well, maybe I’ll start doing mice and rats and hamsters. And 21 years later here I am. Getting laid off from that job was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
The Moyers’ four children all help with the business of raising mice, rats, hamsters and gerbils. The rice and rats are feeders for snakes, which are sold to zoos and the hamsters and gerbils are sold to distributors who sell them to pet stores. The business produces about 12,000 mice per week, about 1,500 rats, about a thousand hamsters, down from about 4,000 a week, and just a couple of hundred gerbils. The current matter involves only the hamsters.
The farm’s troubles began a few years back, when their regular inspector was called to war, so they sent a substitute, who acted aggressively, using harsh language and threatening an employee. Dean called her boss and told her he never wanted that inspector back unless he was present. They all agreed, but at the next inspection the same agent came back and walked right in the building without him.
“So, I made issue of it, I was upset, I wrote letters to the USDA,” explained Moyer. “They didn’t like that very much, so I ended up getting criminally investigated. I had a man from the USDA that was part of their enforcement service that was here with a gun on his hip, with two inspector agents sitting in my office.”
Although the criminal investigation foundered, AFP was sent a copy of the one-page letter, which is simply a reasoned call for common sense and contains no threats or even a single hint of one. Why the USDA sent an armed enforcement agent to the farm is still a mystery to the Moyers.
On July 15, the farm received a thick, registered packet from USDA, asking for $22,143 by August 29, 2012, for violating portions of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act. A copy of this settlement offer was emailed to this writer by a spokesman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Although the offer cites several animal deaths, it does not give a number and refused to release a figure neither to SVF nor to this writer.
Dean explained the contents of the offer.
“If I wanted to pay the $22,000 that was a lessened amount. They went three years, brought all the write-ups, which was 45 of them in three years, many of them the same silly, little issues, and told me that if I wanted to go to court, which I can, they can come back and impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, which is $450,000 that I’m facing if I want to go to court. I were to face a $450,000 fine, it would bankrupt my entire business.”
At issue are the regulations and how they are not in tune with the realities of running a feeder farm.
Dean explained: “When we would get inspected, it was a given that when they came, they were writing you up. They would find something to write you up for. It could be fecal matter on the floor, shavings on the floor, a dead animal in a box, I mean, just really unimportant stuff. And that had been the way it had gone for 12 years. I never had really any issues. You’d get all the write-ups, they would come in, sit down it in the office, talk to you about, you’d sign a paper, and they would be off, and six-months, 12-months later, they’d be back.”
“If you were raising 50 hamsters a week, or 25 hamsters a week, you could, very easily, follow every regulation that they have. It would still be a little bit of work, but you could do it. But when you do it on a commercial level like we do it, it’s impossible not to have fecal matter on the floor. It’s impossible for them to go through and not find a sick animal or a dead animal in a box, it’s literally impossible. In my hamster facility at any given moment, we have probably 6,000 animals in there.”
“We had an inspection this last week. I knew they were coming. We spent 12 hours before they got there, the four of us, three hours each, we went through every single box, making sure everything was OK, and pulled dead. We don’t have a high mortality. We pulled all the dead out, and then they came in, 7 a.m., two inspectors, drove all the way here from Youngstown, Ohio, four-and-a-half hours one way, went through every box and they probably found 25 dead animals in my boxes.”
“They are rodents, they don’t live long anyway, they only have a couple of year life span, they’re nasty, they kill each other, things happen. They’re not mistreated, they’re not inhumanely treated by any stretch of anybody’s imagination. They’re very well taken care of.”
“I’ve been raising small animals for 21 years. I know how to do it, we do it the best possible way we can do it, because if I keep the animal healthy, it produces better. So economically, it’s advantageous to me to make sure they’re fed, watered and cleaned. I’ve been raising the same colony of hamsters for 12 years, so there is obviously not a problem with contaminating diseases, they are functioning great, they produce, they are obviously healthy.”
“When my inspector was here last week, I asked the guy, we’ve got like 6,000 animals in here, I said what is an acceptable level of mortality in the boxes. Zero. Zero is an acceptable level of mortality in the boxes. Now how can that possibly be the case when animals live only a couple of years, we got thousands of them in there, common sense would tell you you’re always gonna have dead in there, always. Again, they’re the lowest mammal life form, rodents. They will eat each other. If the babies aren’t healthy, they will kill the baby and eat it. And it doesn’t make them sick. They don’t have the same need for cleanliness or hygiene as human beings have.”
“The two inspectors who were just here Thursday, one was a veterinarian. As a vet, had no history or knowledge of hamsters, none. Never inspected a hamster building in her life before last week.”
Dean elaborated on what he sees as wasted taxpayer funds.
“The USDA’s APHIS division is costing the taxpayers $837 million. My regular inspector lives 15-miles from me. These inspectors now, drove four-and-a-half hours, four-and-a-half hours, from Youngstown, Ohio, to come and check me out. Two of ‘em. Imagine how much money that costs the taxpayers to have those guys do that, with a hotel bill on top of that. Why is the taxpayer paying these guys to come and look at hamsters? We’ve got people foreclosing on their homes. Do you know how much $3,000 would’ve helped those guys out?”
Dean summed up his plight.
“They can have these regulations if they want and conduct business as they always have in the past, they can write me up if they want, and I don’t have a problem with that, that’s fine. But putting human beings out-of-work and out-of-business over pulling a dead animal out of a box, is so unjustified.”
“This is my livelihood. If it weren’t your livelihood, you would probably just close shop and be done with it and give up the fight, not even risk the fight. But unfortunately for me, I’m in a position where I’ve got a family of six, and I’m gonna put up a fight. I can’t run my business like the federal government runs theirs. And if I have to run my business that way, then I need tax money.”
Dean and Carol have put together a Facebook page, and hope readers will call the USDA to voice their concerns on their behlalf. Sarah Conant, the chief of the investigative and enforcement division of APHIS can be reached at (301) 851-2756.
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s ‘Underground Interview’ series.
In Michigan, a Resistant Farmer Toils for his Rights
‘Government pork’ takes on a whole new meaning for Air Force veteran
By Mark Anderson
MARION, Mich.—Mark Baker, who dares to raise “heritage pigs” in a regulatory system that has little tolerance for self-sufficient living, is awaiting an October 15 court hearing in Marquette County District Court. There, Baker intends to determine whether he can live the life of his choosing. This case is being carefully watched nationally and could go a long way toward advancing not only independent family agriculture in general, but also any kind of property rights—well beyond Michigan.
As Baker told this AMERICAN FREE PRESS writer during a recent visit to his family farm, the collusion of government with corporate interests is becoming so audacious that the very idea of self governance is under sustained attack. Thus, Baker—an Air Force veteran—concludes that although his case happens to involve livestock, there are larger freedom principles at stake that transcend agriculture.
For simply raising heritage pigs—in which Baker practices good stewardship, in sharp contrast to corporate-farm operations which often brutalize confined hogs and produce unhealthy meat—he has sparked the ire of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Baker is saddled with a December 13, 2011 DNR Declaratory Ruling which, he said, trumps the constitutional requirement of needing a warrant for law enforcement to enter one’s property.
Under this ruling, the state feels it can force certain pig farmers to shoot their own animals if the pigs can be labeled “feral.” But Baker, a hard-knuckled Irish-American originally from Boston, refused to shoot his own pigs.
However, another farmer succumbed and shot 70 of his pigs, babies included.
Before the DNR could sue or arrest Baker for resisting, he hired a lawyer and acted first. “We sued the DNR for relief . . . . I told the DNR I would not comply, because I thought it was unconstitutional,” he said.
Baker, like other Michigan heritage pig farmers, can no longer sell the gourmet pork from his pigs to chefs and other customers under this ruling. Baker does raise other livestock, but this development regarding his pigs and the legal costs involved is seriously squeezing his family.
Since the Declaratory Ruling in effect overrides Fourth Amendment protection, Baker had believed that a SWAT team planned to show up at his farm.
“I got a call from a farmer friend—that ‘they’ are going to go to ‘Baker’s house’ and depopulate his herd. I sent my family out of here and stayed myself. Then we received word from the Attorney General, in writing, that they would not be moving against us, until the [lawsuit] was settled,” he said.
When Baker, early on, called the DNR to verify the ruling—which he first learned about during a casual conversation with a customer, not from the state—he was informed of a February 2012 DNR meeting at which farmers’ questions supposedly would be answered. “In the meantime I downloaded. . .the Declaratory Ruling. And in this ruling. . .they say that pigs that have certain characteristics are ‘feral,’ and they give nine characteristics,” including such things as “straight tails or curly tails; floppy ears or erect ears.”
“And number nine, my favorite, is ‘other characteristics not currently known to the Michigan DNR,’” Baker added, clarifying that the “feral” tag is really just an insanely broad, arbitrary label for the state to carry out “racial profiling” of pigs and reclassify heritage pigs as undesirables that need to be snuffed out—so that only corporate pork operations will survive, as Baker sees it.
Oddly, the actual definition of feral is a “domesticated pig that has either escaped or has been abandoned,” said Baker—pointing out that the state doesn’t actually honor that definition, opting instead to use the label as a tyrannical tool. Baker’s and the other heritage pig farmers’ lands allow the pigs to roam freely within a fenced perimeter. And unless there is a highly unusual circumstance, the heritage pigs, since all pigs are herd animals, know to stay at the farm where their food supply is always available.
So, the notion that pigs like those which belong to Baker will just routinely ravage the countryside and eat neighbors’ crops and vegetation is a vastly overblown fear. Yet, at the large confined corporate hog operations, the pigs often die in the intense heat, amid their own fecal waste with poor ventilation. And sometimes, when migrant workers are brought in to dispose of the dead hogs, a few appear to be dead but survive—and those pigs do make a bold escape, often at night, when possible; thus, it is those pigs which become “feral,” eating whatever vegetation they can along the way to survive.
At that February 2012 DNR hearing, answers were not forthcoming, only edicts during a PowerPoint presentation. And when the farmers protested, some DNR officials gestured like they were going to draw their pistols.
“We were told April 1 was the deadline, and if your pigs have even one of the [nine] characteristics that they list, then you have to get rid of them. And if you don’t, you can go to jail for four years, and you can be fined up to $20K per violation,” Baker added.
During this ordeal Baker has encountered other instances of DNR officers, state police and U.S. marshals surrounding him and other farmers while packing heat—at court hearings concerning other farmers being oppressed in this matter.
In a new development, Baker, shouldering more heavy legal costs in the process, just deposed several DNR officials, because “on record, they [had] come out and said there are actually ‘two species’ of swine—the kind that live outside, and the [other] kind that live in hog houses [Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs]. We want to get them under oath explaining [this].”
Dr. Nancy Frank of the Michigan Department of Agriculture was among those deposed. On the record in Lansing during August 23-24 depositions, she actually said she was “not qualified” to answer the question of how many species of swine there are [answer: there is one] One official conceded that the answer is one: Dr. Ron Bates, a DNR consultant.
A key point is that heritage pigs, which take longer to reach their full weight, are healthily raised where they can bask, walk and eat in the sun. They are not given growth hormones and antibiotics—the very antithesis of CAFO pigs that often die in confinement. Heritage pigs, notably, are rarer breeds that have been raised in humane and environmentally-friendly conditions for a number of generations.
“If we win this one, the small-farm movement gains a little bit of ground,” Baker said, determined to see if the freedom he and other soldiers assumed they were fighting for actually exists.
Those who want to assist Baker in his plight can visit their website for information on his legal defense, as he and his family try to prevent themselves from being bankrupted by this juggernaut.
Mark Anderson is AFP’s roving editor. Listen to Mark’s weekly radio show and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.