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THE MICHIGAN RIGHT TO FARM ACT (RTFA)
By Timothy Fischer, Deputy Policy Director
Michigan Environmental Council

What is RTFA?

First, the Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA) provides producers (bee keepers in this case) who conform to GAAMPS an affirmative defense against a nuisance lawsuit brought by another citizen (not a government). A nuisance suit is a civil action where the person suing (plaintiff) claims that the person against whom the suit is brought (defendant) has unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s quiet use and enjoyment of their property. A potential result of this action would be an order requiring the defendant to stop the operation which caused the nuisance. However, if the defendant’s agricultural practices conform to GAAMPs, a court will presume, at the outset, that the defendant has done nothing wrong and that the plaintiff does not have this particular claim of action available to the plaintiff. Further, the defendant may sue the plaintiff for recovery of legal expenses.

Second, the RTFA preempts, or trumps, local zoning ordinances. This means that if a producer’s agricultural practices conform to GAAMPs, a township or other municipality may not force the producer from operating – for example by “zoning out” the practice. This is perhaps the stronger of the two protections afforded by the RTFA.

Until now, the Michigan RTFA did not contemplate bee keeping as an agricultural practice under the Act. So, a bee keeper did not have a GAAMP to conform to, and therefore, could not come under RFTA protection. This will change once the Agriculture Commission approves the new Draft Care of Animals GAAMP.

What is a GAAMP?

A GAAMP is a Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practice. It is essentially a best practices guide for a farmer (or bee keeper in this case). GAAMPs are drafted by a GAAMP committee, typically chaired by an MSU agriculture professor and made up of other “experts” and sometimes a member of the community. GAAMPs are supposed to be “scientifically based”. GAAMPs are reviewed each year by a GAAMP committee. The Agriculture Commission approves draft GAAMPS each year.

What the bee keeping GAAMP is not:

A note of caution is necessary here. As stated above, a GAAMP is basically a best practices guide (this bee keeping GAAMP was taken whole-cloth from Maine). A common mistake that farmers make is to state that they are farmers and therefore protected by the RTFA. This is definitely not the case. A producer must become familiar with the GAAMP and follow its constraints (sometimes more than one GAAMP may apply). Bee keepers should review the GAAMP closely to see where it is appropriate to site their apiaries and the number of hives in an apiary vis-à-vis vacant acreage, etc.
Also, there are other requirements that must be met for a bee keeper to come under RFTA protection, even if the bee keeper conforms to GAAMPs. For example, the operation must be commercial in nature (this could use a discussion by itself).

The draft bee keeping GAAMP will be discussed at the next Care of Animals GAAMP committee meeting and will be finalized at the December 9, 2008 Michigan Agriculture Commission meeting (assuming that the GAAMP committee will accept the bee keeping GAAMP as it is currently written). Once it is officially approved by the Agriculture Commission it will be available on the Michigan Department of Agriculture website at this link: http://www.michigan.gov/mda/0,1607,7-125-1567_1599_1605---,00.html

Timothy R. Fischer

119 Pere Marquette Dr., Suite 2A
Lansing, MI 48912

Phone: 517-487-9539
Direct: 517-487-3606 ext. 12
Fax: 517-487-9541

Email: [email protected]
Web: www.environmentalcouncil.org


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