New livestock premises rule change allows religious exemption
The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) took action last week to adjust the state's mandatory livestock premises registration rule to make the system more acceptable to farmers who have strongly held religious beliefs against registering their farms with the government.
The citizen policy board for the department approved changes to the livestock premises registration rule at a meeting in Madison Aug. 14.
Current rules don't provide for any exemptions to registering a livestock premises but this rule revision will create a limited exemption for people who are members of "recognized religious groups" who have "sincerely held religious beliefs" opposing certain conditions that are now part of the rules.
Amish elders have come to several board meetings to voice their religious opposition to the idea of placing a number on their property. They are even more opposed to placing numerical identification on their livestock, which they believe will be an outgrowth of registering their premises.
At several earlier ag board meetings they explained that their opposition grows out of their interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelations and phrases about the "mark of the beast."
The state's livestock premises registration law requires that owners of bovine animals, equines, goats, poultry, sheep, swine, farm-raised deer, captive game birds, camelids, ratites and fish register their property with the state.
Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt, the state veterinary in charge of the department's Animal Health Division, said Wisconsin was the first state with mandatory livestock premises registration but now Indiana and Michigan also have required registration for some animals.
Veterinarians and others in the livestock industry have said that the system is necessary to help them locate premises with livestock in case of serious disease outbreaks.
Ehlenfeldt said he had not heard of any Amish opposition to the premises registration system in Indiana, where there is a sizable Amish community.
The rule change approved by the board last week provides that an individual must submit an affidavit indicating that the person is a member of an established religion with a strong religious reason for opposing livestock premises registration as it is mandated.
People doing so must also provide some required information that would assist the department in locating livestock.
According to material presented to the board, neighboring states have a variety of approaches to livestock premises registration.
Minnesota has mandatory livestock premises registration for farm-raised cervids (deer and their relatives) and voluntary registration for all other livestock. Information is updated there if the producer provides the information.
Iowa and Illinois have voluntary premises registration for their livestock owners. In Illinois there is no renewal of premises registration.
Michigan has mandatory livestock premises registration for cattle. Cervids and aquaculture farm owners are required to be licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and this includes a premises registration.
All other Michigan livestock premises may be registered voluntarily and there is no specific renewal requirement for premises registration.
Indiana has mandatory livestock premises registration for cattle, sheep, goats, swine, bison and farmed cervids. Horses, aquaculture and poultry may register voluntarily and renewal of premises registration is voluntary.
Ehlenfeldt said that once this exemption in state rules is implemented the Amish farmers who seek the exemption won't be entered into the database that contains the other farms' and their information.
"I believe the Amish are satisfied with this," the vet said.
Secretary Ben Brancel said that the agency had "worked very diligently to communicate back and forth with the Amish community" in crafting this rule revision.
"We worked with them on the verbage in the form - they do not swear - and those kinds of things were all satisfied with the community as we worked through this," Brancel added.
The department held two hearings on the new rule draft - one in Madison and one in Marshfield - and took a number of written comments. Some who testified felt that premises registration should be voluntary, others believed that a religious belief should be enough to qualify for the exemption rather than showing membership in a recognized religious group.
At least one person testified that they were concerned about offering a rule change exempting the Amish.
In response to the testimony, a change was made to the requirement that an individual provide a telephone number, and clarified that a number only needs to be provided if it is available.
The final draft of this rule was presented to the governor for informal review prior to the board's consideration.
The rule change approved by the board also makes a minor change in the registration calendar that will save the agency some money, Ehlenfeldt said.
Under current rules a person's livestock premises registration expires every three years on December 31. This rule changes the expiration date for all registrants to every third July 31 (after July 31, 2013.)
Ehlenfeldt explained that this change will expedite the renewal process by only having DATCP incur the cost of processing renewals every three years; and it will be done during a time of year when temporary employees should be available.
This rule revision must be approved by lawmakers when the Legislature goes back into session in January.