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The Mark of the Beast

By Henry Lamb
web posted January 9, 2006

The federal government is launching a National Animal Identification System that will, by 2009, require that every agricultural animal in the nation be equipped with an identification device through which its movement can be traced from birth to slaughter. At the moment, the program is voluntary; by 2009, non-compliance can result in fines of up to $1,000 per day.

Implementation is coming fast. By April, 2006, 25 percent of all "premises" (any location where animals are kept) are to be registered with the government. By July, an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection system is to be in place in every state. By January, 2008, all premises, and all animals are to be registered. By July, 2008, the movement of all animals will be tracked. In January, 2009, the program becomes mandatory.

The stated purpose of the program is to enable government to trace, within 48 hours, the source of a faulty animal food product. The effect of the program is the transfer of the control of private property to the government - while forcing the property owner to pay the cost of the transfer.

Last week's column asked: "What do you call it when government takes away the use of private property, but leaves the title in the name of the property owner?" Dozens of letter writers correctly responded: "Fascism." Last week's column was about government controlling the use of land; this week, the government is controlling the use of animals.

The program is not limited to commercial producers; it includes the half-dozen chickens at grandma's house. Her "premises," and each chicken must be registered with the government, as the program now stands. In fact, the pet parakeet in a cage on the 20th floor of a condo in Miami Beach, must also be registered, along with the premises. As the program now stands, there are no exceptions.

Surely, some of the stupidity will be squeezed out of the program as more people become aware of it, and insist that government has gone too far. The question, however, is not how far is too far, but whether government should go there at all.

Nothing among the enumerated powers granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution can be construed to include the power to control the use of private property. The federal government is empowered to regulate interstate commerce, but grandma's chickens, and aunt Jane's parakeet do not constitute interstate commerce.

Everyone wants a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply, which America has enjoyed for years - without a National Animal Identification System. Why is it necessary now? The increased terrorist threat certainly justifies tightening up security in the food chain. But the NAIS does little or nothing to tighten security, while imposing ridiculous burdens upon the small producer.

The NAIS was initiated by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, a non-government organization consisting of the leaders of agribusiness. The program they designed tends to shift the burden, cost, and ultimate responsibility for food safety, from the agribusiness giants, to the small producer.

Interstate commerce conjures up images of business such as Tyson Foods, who have mastered the art of vertically integrated marketing. Tyson controls the production of its chickens from birth to market, using farmers only to provide space and labor to get their product to slaughter. Here is where government should focus its regulatory concern - and leave grandma's chickens alone.

Suppliers of beef, pork, and lamb, often buy their animals from small producers who work hard to raise healthy, marketable animals. The agribusiness suppliers are free to buy, or not buy, from any producer. Here, at the point where the product enters the food chain, is where responsibility, security, and regulatory control should be focused - not on the already overburdened small producer.

But no. The NAIS requires the small producer to not only bear the cost of the program, but also to be the ultimate scapegoat, in the event that an agribusiness supplier's product is found to be faulty - for whatever reason. Should little Johnny get sick after eating a hamburger made with beef supplied by BigAgri Packing Company, BigAgri simply points the finger to the producer, or producers, whose cows were in the batch from which Johnny's hamburger was made. Agribusiness shifts its responsibility for buying only healthy product, to the farmer, who must guarantee his animals to be healthy.

The NAIS is an industry-designed program which will ultimately drive small producers out of business, reduce competition, and ultimately put both supply and price in the hands of industry giants - unless opponents of this program get organized.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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