Two years ago he moved to Wisconsin, to be closer to other members of his extended family, He confined his slaughtering and butchering to neighbors and friends...and that is when his problems started.
Everything was fine for a while. "Neighbors would ask me for help in cutting up meat from their cows," he says.
Then Bender ran an ad in a local publication offering to butcher deer for local hunters. There was no problem with that, except an inspector with Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection saw the ad and, according to Bender, "figured if you are cutting up deer, you are probably cutting up beef."
And beginning nine months ago, Bender began a journey through DATCP hell. Agents arrived Jan. 5 threatening to take Bender's beef. He tried to explain that he wasn't serving the public, but they returned Jan. 10, with a local sheriff's deputy, and no warrant. "They said they didn't need a warrant because there is contraband here."
The agents proceeded to red-tag all the food in the walk-in freezer in his garage. "They said, 'You don't have the right to have your son's meat in your freezer. Just your meat." They put tags not only on beef, but on venison, and frozen blueberries and cherries. They left alone a lamb he had just butchered for himself.
"They said the detained tags have to stay there 30 days. There's a $5,000 fine for each tag removed. I have friends from Russia who used to tell me about the KGB, and this is what this seemed like."
Bender has had heart trouble, and not surprisingly, this encounter with the law didn't help things. He collapsed the day after they put the tags on his food--a doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
DATCP insists he have an approved facility and a license to butcher the meat. "That means building a shop or building to their specs, nice shiny and white," he says. "I tried to check into some prices, and seems like it would be about $30,000." All that expense to buy things he doesn't really need. "They said I need a restroom facility. I said I can go in the house, 50 feet away."
"I am supposed to have a holding tank. Why? If I kill an animal, I do it on the farm. All your blood and guts are at the farm where it is done."
Aside from all that, he's just not doing that much slaughtering. "I might kill one cow, then it's three or four weeks before I do another. I work hither and yon to keep busy."
Yes, "hither and yon" is something for another age. In the meantime, the DATCP obtained a temporary restraining order on Bender in February. "It says I can't go to any place to butcher meat, and no one can come to me."
In July, he helped a neighboring farmer slaughter a cow that couldn't walk, with the farmer taking the meat. DATCP somehow learned about the event, and Bender has received a summons to appear in court Oct. 16. "They want to fine me $1,000 for helping butcher a farmer's cow that he was going to be eating himself," Bender says with amazement.
Bender says he has had three court hearings since was first hit with the tagging, and at one of them, he says he tried to argue to the judge that the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment guarantee of "the right to be safe in your own home" gave him the right to butcher meat at his home.He said a retired inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had told him there was such a thing as a "producer's exemption" whereby a farmer can engage an outsider to help him slaughter a cow.
Low-level judges generally don't like to hear about Constitutional guarantees and such. They are mostly in the business of backing up the regulators. And they also don't like to hear from ordinary folk representing themselves instead of hiring a lawyer, as Bender has been doing.
"I always thought that honesty was the way to be with people," Bender says. You have to admire his sincerity, but then you have to remember the people he is dealing with.
For another account of Bender's problems, see this account from the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (NICFA).