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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Amish Clash With U.S. Farming Rule

Amish Clash With U.S. Farming RuleIt's not like Glen Mast to be confrontational or to draw attention to himself. He is Old Order Amish and is happy to tend his 35-acre farm in his rural central Michigan community.

"I just want to be left alone," Mast says.

So it is extraordinary that Mast is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed this month seeking to stop the government from tagging the ears of cattle with computer chips, chips that Mast and others say violate their religious freedom.

In Michigan and other states, the insular, Old World ways of the Amish are clashing with the technology-driven New World desire to track the movement of livestock in hopes of ensuring the safety of the food supply from mad cow disease, pseudo rabies, tuberculosis and other maladies. Some Amish are selling their cattle rather than comply with the regulation. Some are refusing to register their farms with a government-run national database. And some are moving to other states, where enforcement of the federal regulation is not as rigorous.

Historically, the Amish have quietly but fiercely fought for their separate and isolated status, winning, for instance, exemption from the military draft. They do not participate in Social Security, nor do they vote or run for political office.

But the emerging public health issue behind the livestock-tagging requirement has put the preservation of the Amish way against a compelling national concern.

Because the Amish are a growing segment of the dairy industry, that has put them in conflict with government efforts to regulate and protect the food supply. The concept behind the radio frequency chips is to follow the movement of millions of cattle and, when diseases occur, trace the possible origin.

In the decidedly small world of the Amish, though, the program is an incursion into their privacy and, for many, a violation of their religious freedom.

Many Amish interpret the New Testament book of Revelation as a warning that acceptance of technology — in this case the chips and the computers into which the information would be stored — amounts to worship of the Satan-possessed Antichrist. To many, the computer is the beast that will control their lives. There are disputes among the Amish about that interpretation, Alexander said, but there is broad agreement that embracing technology as a means to sell cattle is not in keeping with the teachings of the Bible.

The Virginia-based Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, along with Mast and a handful of other plaintiffs, sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Agriculture, seeking to block enforcement.

By: Tim Jones
Chicago Tribune; September 27, 2008