It’s been only a few hours since the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) made its voluntary-to-required debut in Michigan, and already a farmer is challenging its underpinnings. The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) quickly responded by quarantining his farm.
Here is what happened: Greg Niewendorp, owner of a 160-acre farm in East Jordan in the northern end of the lower peninsula, made good on his pledge, stated in my “Farmers Say No to Animal Tags” BusinessWeek.com article in December, to resist all MDA orders related to NAIS. So when MDA reps came around a few weeks back to test his 19 cows for bovine tuberculosis, he refused to allow the testing.
Since MDA has justified its requirement that all cattle wear radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to comply with NAIS on the basis of using the national program to fully eradicate bovine TB, Niewendorp decided that the time had come to make his stand. “Michigan is being used as a model to implement NAIS,” he told me.
“I have been under a whole-herd (TB) test program for six years,” he said. “This year I refused it.”
Why this year? "I made a decision I was going to refuse to comply, and bring this to a focal point and show that there are those of us who are not going to go along with" the government’s agenda. The quarantine doesn’t have a practical effect on Niewendorp’s farm business, since he doesn’t trade cattle and thus doesn’t have animals leaving and arriving. He breeds his own cattle, and sells meat directly to consumers.
But the quarantine could have a huge legal impact on him, since non-compliance with the bovine TB test can lead to a felony charge, with conviction resulting in a jail sentence of up to five years and a fine up to $50,000.
Niewendorp responded to the MDA’s action with a five-page letter in which he demands that the MDA provide evidence that bovine TB is contagious, and that his particular farm is at risk.
He also warns MDA “that your department is not to enter onto my farm without a properly executed search warrant since any entry by your department would be to obtain criminal evidence which mandates a search warrant.”
He expresses concern that his cattle could be placed at risk by the bovine TB test for actually contracting the disease. “I require clear scientific evidence showing that there is no risk to any of my cattle of such experimental injections and an agreement by the state to indemnify and hold me harmless from any unseen or unintended consequences arising from such injection…”
Niewendorp is clearly a man of his word. One question: Will other farmers take a similar stand?