BURLINGTON >> Former Enosburg pig farmer Greg Finch has admitted to charges that he illegally imported livestock into Vermont without the required state veterinary inspections, agency import permits, and individual animal identifications.
The admission came in a Dec. 7 settlement with the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
The agreement saw $14,800 in administrative penalties suspended from the original recommended amount of $24,800, as long as Finch admit to the wrongdoing, pay the remaining $10,000 immediately, and not import or sell any livestock in Vermont for one year. The Secretary of Agriculture must also not find probable cause on any other potential allegations involving Finch for a period of two years.
Finch, who now resides in New Hampshire and has since admitted to the violations and paid the amount due, declined to comment for this story. His lawyer with Tarrant, Gillies, & Richardson in Montpelier also declined comment.
When determining an appropriate fine for Finch, the Agency of Agriculture took into account that he had already lost his business and primary source of income and endured financial hardship outside of the administrative penalties, according to Vermont State Veterinarian Dr. Kristin Haas.
"Our goal through all of this is to contain any problems that exist as well as provide a deterrent for any future activities." said Dr. Haas, "I think that the terms in the agreement accomplish those things. The other thing that's important to note is that Mr. Finch agrees to have imported these animals illegally and that was a point that we felt was important to have memorialized."
The Agency of Agriculture launched an investigation into Finch's farm in February after tattoos and ear notches on his pigs raised suspicions with USDA inspectors at Vermont Slaughter and Processing. Working in conjunction with Vermont slaughter, processing, and sales giant Black River Meats, Finch was the sole source of pigs for Vermont Smoke and Cure's premium 5 Knives line of Vermont-born pork products. The 5 Knives line was immediately discontinued following the flagging of Finch's meats, and both Vermont Smoke and Cure and Black River Meats severed ties with the Finch. Fines followed when the state investigation found Finch in violation of interstate livestock commerce laws in March of 2015, having illegally imported more than 1500 pigs over the course of a year to his Northeast Kingdom farm from a conventional livestock auction in Pennsylvania.
The state charges and the agreed-upon fines relate only to the health and safety risks associated with importing livestock into Vermont without the requisite veterinary inspection and permitting. They do not address the potential consumer deception issues with the way pork products made with Finch's pigs were marketed and sold to consumers as Vermont products.
When asked if those who did business with Finch were under investigation in relation to the misleading born-in-Vermont claims, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane said, "the matter is under review and I have no further comment."