The following article first appeared in The Country Today (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), September 1, 1999, and is reproduced here with permission.
Mink Ranchers Appeal for Help
By Judy Brown, Regional Editor
(See also related story: Farmers Rally for Safe Farms)
PLYMOUTH, WISCONSIN: Several dozen mink ranchers from the Midwest appealed to the Wisconsin Assembly Agriculture Committee August 26 for help in combating terrorism on their farms when animal rights proponents let animals loose.
“We no longer feel free to leave our place any time of the day,” said George Kalmon, Medford. The Taylor County mink rancher represented the 60-member Northern Mink Club.
“You can’t go to church on Sunday without thinking somebody is bringing your place down,” he said.
Mr. Kalmon, whose farm was victimized 2 years ago when mink were released, told the Assembly Ag Committee that frustrated farmers would like to see a public show of support from the governor “so the rest of the state can see it is a problem.”
Committee Chairman Al Ott, R-Forest Junction, said the committee originally set its itinerary to tour several cheese plants in Sheboygan County.
The committee toured Sargento Foods Inc. and Sartori Food Corp. in Plymouth. Between the cheese sandwich, the committee took an hour to hear mainly from mink farmers.
The outpouring of concern by several dozen mink farmers at the public hearing followed two incidents on August 9 in Sheboygan County. The United Feeds mink feed mill was torched by suspected members of the Animal Liberation Front, causing $1.5 million in damage. On the same early morning about 3,000 mink were released from an area farm.
Rep. Ott said the committee was there to listen and what it heard was riveting commentary from mink ranchers, some of whom drove 8 hours from Iowa to attend the hearing, a rally and a listening session conducted by U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac), who represents the 6th Congressional District.
Farmers expressed frustration at what they said was terrorism when animals are let loose and businesses damaged.
“These people have no respect for people. They respect animals,” said Kalmon, who said terrorist acts were ruining his fourth-generation business.
If a farmer confronts a person on his property, Mr. Kalmon said he is prohibited from “laying a hand on them.”
“What are our rights? What we are asking is help to protect all of Wisconsin,” he said, adding that state law should be beefed up to make disrupting businesses a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
Robert Zimbal, Sheboygan, who operates two mink ranches, said his facility, was one of the first to have mink released 10 years ago.
“We finally found out who released them and then we turned the information over to the district attorney who told us that since we have our animals back they wouldn’t prosecute,” he said. Since then terrorist activities have escalated, he said.
Mink ranchers Justin Underwood of Fredericksburg, Iowa, said he’s been in the business for 51 years and now believes that his farm has been identified by planes flying over his flat land.
“These are not people, they are terrorists,” he said. “They have unlimited money.”
Ag committee member Rep. Barb Gronemus, D-Whitehall, who introduced a bill calling for sterner measures when animals are let loose, agreed that airplane surveillance was going on.
“Its terrible. They are terrorists,” she said. She also urged mink ranchers to lobby their state senators so that a bill, which has passed in the Assembly, could receive action in the Senate.
Mel Blanke of Plymouth, president of United Feeds Inc., said that before the mill was destroyed by arson, the facility handled 32 million pounds of byproducts from Wisconsin processing plants, including meat, eggs, cereal, and cheese. That annual volume would fill 750 semi loads, he said.
“We do need your help. If we no longer are able to stay in business you’ve got to get a lot of landfill,” Mr. Blanke said.
Sheboygan County, he noted, has more mink ranches than any other county in the state.
The FBI has taken the incident seriously “because they see what happens overseas. It’s the kind of thing we want to stop,” Mr. Blanke said.
Teresa Platt, executive director of the Fur Commission USA, Coronado, Calif., surmised that although it was a small group of terrorist who act globally, their actions have resulted in about $20 million in damage on farms in the first 6 months of this year. “Terrorism against resource providers is all too common in America,” she said. “Animal rights terrorists and eco-terrorists have struck small family farms, food producers, research scientists, loggers, miners, the recreation industry and many others.”
A coalition of hundreds of organizations has joined in a request for action in dealing with the problem, Ms. Platt said. Members include zoos, rodeos, ranches, and timber and mining operations.
While mink farms are frequent targets, she said other businesses are not immune.
“It’s a very small group of people breaking the law and getting away with it,” Ms. Platt said.
“In August, 17 dairy trucks were torched at a dairy plant by the same group, the Animal Liberation Front. Is it hitting dairy? Yes, it’s hit dairy already.”
In testimony before Congress on several measures, Ms. Platt said part of the action requested by the Fur Commission is an investigation into animal rights groups. The commission has asked that the IRS check the non-profit status of animal rights groups supporting terrorism. “Yank that non-profit status. They can do it on their own nickel,” she said, rather than enjoy their non-tax-paying status.
One encouraging aspect of fighting terrorism, she said was that since February the FBI has changed its policy in dealing with domestic terrorism.
Listing abortion, animal rights and the environment as issues subject to domestic terrorism, Ms. Platt noted that two of the three dealt with animal-based issues.