Posted by: bkivey | 24 May 2011

Amok Time

A story that caught my eye this last week:

Rabbit mill shut down by the USDA!

In 2006 the Dollarhite family of Nixa, MO, decided to use a pair of rescued rabbits to start a rabbitry and sold the animals for meat, exhibition, and the occasional pet. Over the next three years the family sold 390 rabbits at $10 or $15 apiece for a total take of $4600* and a net profit of $200. By all accounts the rabbitry was clean, well-maintained, and the animals were healthy and cared for.

In the fall of 2009 a USDA inspector showed up at the Dollarhite’s house and demanded a spot inspection. The family complied and the inspector found a couple of minor infractions. During the course of the inspection the USDA agent asked the Dollarhites if they wanted to become USDA certified, emphasizing that certification was voluntary. The family demurred, unsure of what advantaged they’d gain from certification.

In January 2010 the USDA informed the Dollarhites that they were in violation of a provision of a USDA code that prohibits the sale of more than $500 worth of rabbits annually. As a consequence, the USDA issued a fine in excess of $90,000, with potential fines of nearly $4 million. The deadline for paying the fine was 23 May 2011.

After reading the original story and follow-up articles, as well as the pertinent US Code, this is what I’ve found:

  • The Dollarhites should have performed due diligence prior to opening a rabbitry. By accounts John Dollarhite did contact USDA in 2006, and didn’t find anything that he thought would affect an operation of the scale planned.
  • The rabbits were housed and raised in a manner and facilities exceeding Missouri state requirements.
  • All of the rabbits were sold in the state of Missouri.

I’m not a lawyer, but I can read. The very first paragraph of the United States Code, Title 7, Chapter 54 – TRANSPORTATION, SALE, AND HANDLING OF CERTAIN ANIMALS, reads:

“The Congress finds that animals and activities which are regulated under this chapter are either in interstate or foreign commerce or substantially affect such commerce or the free flow thereof, and that regulation of animals and activities as provided in this chapter is necessary to prevent and eliminate burdens upon such commerce and to effectively regulate such commerce,”

Congress can regulate interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause, and various courts have held that intrastate commerce can be federally regulated if it ‘substantially affects’ interstate commerce. Nether condition is met in this case, and the lawyer retained by the family apparently came to the same conclusion.

I have some questions:

  • What authority does a federal agency have in a purely local operation?
  • Are Missouri officials comfortable with this usurpation of local authority?

I would wonder why federal officials are unwilling to entertain resolutions based on the spirit of the law rather than the letter (somewhat in doubt in this case), but my experience with federal agencies indicates that 1) they’re gonna find something wrong, and 2) they’re not at all interested in maintaining the condition the law is designed to uphold, but in collecting scalps.

I have on a couple of occasions used my elected officials to deal with a recalcitrant bureaucracy. This is somewhat of a ‘nuclear’ option, and cannot be used lightly, but it can be highly effective. I would advise the Dollarhites to start raising Cain with their elected representatives.

* I know the very first thing you’re wondering is: how many $10 and how many $15 rabbits were sold? OK, maybe it’s just me, but I had to know. Reaching back to Algebra I, we can reason that to sell 390 rabbits for a total of $4600, we must sell some number of $10 rabbits and some number (total number of rabbits – the number of $10 rabbits) of $15 rabbits. We get this equation:

$4600 = $10x + $15(390 – x)

Solving for the variable, we find that x = 250. Because x represents the number of $10 rabbits, we know that we must have sold 390 – 250 or 140 $15 dollar rabbits. Checking the work:

250 * $10 = $2500

140 * $15 = $2100

$2500 + $2100 = $4600

See, math is useful and fun.

Today in History

1830 First US passenger rail service – B&O railroad from Baltimore to Elliot Mills.

1883 Brooklyn Bridge opens.

1941 Bismarck sinks HMS Hood. 3 survive out of a complement of 1,419.

1976 First commercial SST flight to US (Concorde to DC)

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