Friday, June 22, 2007

Lawsuit Challenges NAIS

A lawsuit was filed June 22 in Pennsylvania state court on behalf of a Mennonite farmer. The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ordered that a hearing on the petitioner's request for a preliminary injunction be held on Thursday, June 28, 2007, at 9:30 am, in Courtroom Number One, Fifth Floor, Irvis Office Building in Harrisburg.

James Landis raises Muscovy ducks at his family farm in Lebanon County, PA and has long participated in the Avian Influenza Monitoring Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA). His participation in the monitoring program is required because he sells his ducks to live bird markets in New York City.

In April 2007 the PDA notified Landis that he must accept a federal NAIS Premises ID number for his farm, or lose PDA approval of his birds for shipment to New York on June 30, 2007. Mr. Landis has a religious objection which prevents him from accepting the federal premises ID number and he faced the loss of his family's livelihood if he can't sell his ducks without PDA approval.

The PDA has been trying to compel farmers to accept federal premises ID numbers despite the fact that a bill to require premises registration was defeated during the 2005 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. At the federal level, the USDA maintains that its premises ID program is"voluntary."

Mary Zanoni, founder of Farm for Life, met Mr. Landis last fall at a farmers' meeting in Lancaster County where she spoke about the potential problems of NAIS.

After the PDA demanded in April that Mr. Landis either accept the federal premises ID or face the loss of his livelihood, he contacted her, seeking legal help. They were able to secure assistance from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) ofScottsdale, Arizona and ADF-allied lawyer Leonard G. Brown, III of the firm of Clymer & Musser, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Since 1994, ADF has been one of the nation's leading public-interest legal issues at the trial and appellate levels, including the United States Supreme Court. Leonard Brown and Clymer & Musser have extensive experience in litigating constitutional and civil rights issues at the trial and appellate levels in both state and federal courts.

“Mr. Landis has complied with all of the necessary governmental requirements. The government should not threaten to take his 20-year business from him simply because submitting to this one new unnecessary requirement would cause him violate his religious beliefs,” said Mr. Brown. “This is a reasonable accommodation for the government to make. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s new identification number requirement is simply another layer of bureaucracy and it is unnecessary for them to force a citizen to violate his sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Leonard Brown can be reached at 717-299-7101. Ms Zanoni can be reached at 315-386-3199,

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