USDA: New eyes for "Big Brother"
By Henry Lamb
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking more and more like the "Big Brother" government that has infected Washington in recent years. The "2006 Agricultural Identification Survey" recently mailed to thousands of private landowners is a good example.
The instructions for the questionnaire say "Response to this survey is legally required by Title 7, U.S. Code." Title 7 of the U.S. Code is an enormous document, containing 105 chapters, each of which is a lengthy book unto itself. To find the specific requirement, a person would have to read all the way to Chapter 55, Section 2204g, to discover that a person who falsifies an answer to the questions asked may be fined $500; a person who fails, or refuses to answer, may be fined $100.
The questionnaire asks 22 multi-part questions. The USDA wants to know what is on the privately owned land, how it is used, if there are animals on the land, and the variety and quantity of each. The USDA wants to know if the owner has any contracts which affect the land, or produce revenue, and how much total revenue the land produces.
Does the collection of this information - under penalty of law - by the U.S. government violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which clearly says "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects....shall not be violated..." without a warrant? This USDA survey is an infringement on the Fourth Amendment right of private landowners to be secure in their "persons, houses, papers, and effects." Why does the government need this information?
Actually, this Agriculture Survey was authorized by a 1997 law that was enacted to relieve the U.S. Census Bureau from collecting farm data, which had been an expanding part of its mission for several years. The Census Bureau is authorized by the Constitution to simply count the citizens every ten years, in order to maintain balanced Congressional representation. Like all bureaucracies, however, mission-creep has transformed the Census Bureau into a national snooping machine.
According to the 1997 law, the Agriculture Survey was supposed to be taken in 1998, and every five years thereafter. If a survey was taken in 1998, or 2003, it certainly missed thousands of landowners who received this 2006 survey, which should not be taken until 2008.
It may be purely coincidental that the "Premises Registration" required by the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is precisely the same information that is solicited on the 2006 Agriculture Survey form. Until 2006, the NAIS was intended, and expected, to be mandatory, beginning with Premises Registration by 2007. Affected landowners and small farmers raised such a ruckus, that the USDA had to back down, and promise that the NAIS would be voluntary. Organizations such as the Liberty Ark Coalition, and nonais.org, and stopanimalid.org, and dozens of internet "groups," have sprung up across the country in opposition the NAIS, and to similar programs being developed at the state level, using funds provided by the USDA.
The NAIS was developed by large meat packers and technology manufacturers, to enhance export markets. It was sold to the public as a public safety program to track and trace-back the source of any animal sickness. The program fell apart when analyzed by the people who would be forced to comply with it, and the USDA has been forced to publicly abandon its plan to make the program mandatory.
Privately, however, the USDA is using all the tools it can muster to impose this animal identification program. The USDA has provided funding to states that develop a mandatory program. The USDA has endorsed certain types of electronic technology - produced by the companies that helped develop the original program. Now, coincidentally, comes this 2006 Agriculture Survey, two years ahead of schedule, which requires - under penalty of law - the same information that the NAIS program cannot compel, since it is now voluntary, rather than mandatory.
Some landowners will simply ignore the questionnaire, pay the $100 fine, and consider it to be an expense of keeping the government out of their business. Some folks may try to avoid the fine, and maintain their Fourth Amendment rights, by responding to each and every question with, "It's none of your damn business," and mailing the form to the USDA by the January 29 deadline.
It is a sad state of affairs when Congress has so little concern for the U.S. Constitution that it allows this kind of abuse by federal agencies. This 2006 Agriculture Survey, and the NAIS, are but small examples, of disrespect for the Constitutional rights of all Americans. Congress will change its collective attitude, however, only when required to do so by the voters.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.