Dispatches from the Creation Wars

A federal court has ruled in favor of the state of Michigan and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a case alleging that rules requiring farmers to tag their livestock for identification in order to help identify and prevent the spread of disease violated the religious liberty of farmers who think such tags constitute the “mark of the beast.”

The case, filed in district court in Washington D.C., was brought by a group called the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund on behalf of a group of plaintiffs, all but one of whom is a farmer in Michigan. It was filed against the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) as well as the USDA.

The plaintiffs were seeking to prevent the implementation and enforcement of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a law that requires that each animal on each farm be identified in one of a number of ways so that diseased animals can then be traced back to the farm from which they originated, and rules specifically laid out by the MDA that require that such identification be done through the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

The causes of action against the USDA were dismissed by the court because federal rules do not require the use of RFID tags, nor do they require that the identification program be made mandatory on all farms. The USDA rules, the court noted, provide that the states “may choose to keep premises registration voluntary or not, based on local needs” and that the rules requiring identification are “technology neutral” and include means such as tattoos, brands and non-electronic tags.

On the causes of action against the MDA, which is the agency that made the tagging mandatory on all farmers in the state and specified the use of RFID tags in order to help eradicate the incidence of bovine tuberculosis, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the state because neither law identified by the plaintiffs as grounds for the allegations applies to the states.

The plaintiffs alleged a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a law that requires that exemptions be granted from laws that impose an “undue burden” on the religious liberty of an individual or group unless the state can show a compelling interest in imposing the law in each individual circumstance and of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

But the federal courts have ruled that neither RFRA nor NEPA are legally applicable to state actions, so once the USDA was dismissed from the case those laws could not be used to overturn state actions that were not explicitly required by federal law.

The full ruling by Judge Rosemary Collyer can be seen here (PDF).