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Just in time for the holidays, four beef carcasses hang from the improvised slaughterhouse at Greg Niewendorp’s 160-acre farm outside East Jordan, in the north of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It should be a happy Thanksgiving because, for the first time in eight months, his farm isn’t under quarantine by Michigan’s Department of Agriculture (MDA) and Niewendorp is free to slaughter cattle from his herd of twenty and fulfill contracts in time for the holidays to the couple dozen friends and neighbors who prize the specially bred grass-fed beef he produces.Yet it’s also a bittersweet time, because the scars from his battle with the MDA are still fresh. Last February, he refused to subject his cattle to a mandatory state program to test cattle in his region of Michigan for bovine tuberculosis–a program he argues, among other things, is unnecessary because he distributes his beef privately to people who trust his animal-raising techniques, but which the state insists is essential to ensure the beef isn’t tainted.
The state immediately slapped a quarantine on his farm, prohibiting the movement of animals onto or off the property. Then, in August, an MDA inspector arrived, escorted by two Michigan State Police officers, and attempted to convince Niewendorp to have his cattle tested by a vet waiting down the road. Niewendorp angrily ordered the inspector and police off his property, telling them that, without a search warrant, they were trespassers.