(NaturalNews) A number of Michigan residents believe they are in danger of losing their right to keep livestock on their own property because of a new ruling from the state's Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Off The Grid News (OTGN) reports that the commission ruled April 28 that any local government has the authority to ban livestock from any area that is zoned for residential development.
Gail Philbin of the Michigan Sierra Club told MLive that the ruling will "effective remove Right to Farm act protection for many urban and suburban backyard farmers raising small numbers of animals."
The Right to Farm Act is a state law designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits and zoning regulations. The Commission ruled that the Right to Farm Act does not apply to homeowners who keep small numbers of livestock, OTGN reported.
'It's big farm vs. little farm'
In theory then, according to activists opposed to the ruling, the state government could effectively ban goats, chickens and even bee hives on properties that are within an eighth of a mile of at least 13 homes, or within 250 feet of another home, according to Michigan Radio.
"I believe we have over 100 communities in Michigan who have ordinances on the books against chickens and bees and other things, and they will be able to continue to move forward with those," Jamie Clover Adams, the director of the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, told the program.
"We've seen this huge interest in local food and in urban agriculture. There are different situations that occur when you have people closer together, and people have expectations when they live in the city or when they live in town and this allows those conversations to happen at the local level," he added.
OTGN reported that the commission's rationale for taking this action now is that they are afraid there would be political pressure to repeal the Right to Farm Act in order to stop backyard farming.
"It's all 'Big Farm,' and it's 'Big Farm' deciding against the little farm," Kim White, who raises chickens and rabbits, said of the commission's decision. "They don't want us little guys feeding ourselves. They want us to go all to the big farms. They want to do away with small farms and I believe that is what's motivating it."
"The Commission is essentially taking sides in the marketplace," Philbin added.
'Now we're having to reconsider'
Opponents of the new rule have not yet said what actions they will take, though reports noted that some backyard farmers are considering legal action to block the new rule. They add that other potential courses of action include new legislation on the state level or a statewide ballot initiative to countermand the rule.
Some Michigan small-time livestock farmers say they may wind up in regulatory limbo because of the commission's action. One of them is blogger, writer and organic farmer Michelle R. Deatrick; she says she doesn't know if she can keep her livestock, because about half of her 80-acre farm may not be zoned for animals.
"We're building up a mixed production farm, planning to farm during retirement, and we have a permit in hand for a livestock facility, but have waited with building until we were sure of what the GAAMP changes would be," she said. "Now we're having to reconsider our business plans and may sell the farm and buy a farm in a more rural area with definite [Right To Farm] protection, or move to another state that's more welcoming and protective of small farm rights."
GAAMP refers to the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices, a set of guidelines put out by the state of Michigan, OTGN reported.
"Category 3 sites may be zoned for agriculture, but are generally not suitable for livestock production facilities," the GAAMP states. "They may be suitable for livestock facilities with less than 50 animal units."