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NAIS cannot prevent "Mad Cow" disease

By Henry Lamb
web posted May 8, 2006

Shortly after another "mad cow" was discovered in Alabama, there was a rash of articles in the press citing the event as convincing evidence that the USDA's National Animal Identification System should move forward as quickly as possible. Nowhere did any of the articles mention that the NAIS will do nothing to prevent, control, or even slow the disease.

CowBovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), widely known as "Mad Cow Disease," is a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle. BSE takes years to develop in cattle, not days or weeks. Moreover, the disease is not contagious. The USDA says: "It's important to note that [BSE and related diseases] are not communicable diseases - they do not spread easily like viruses."

If this disease, promoted as justification for the program, is not contagious, why, then, is it necessary for the USDA to construct this massive program to register every premises that houses any farm animal, tag each animal with an electronic monitoring chip, and track every off-premises movement of every animal through a centralized database?

The idea that BSE is justification for the NAIS is thoroughly debunked in a paper prepared by Judith McGeary, a founder of the Liberty Ark Coalition, and Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. She says: "NAIS will not benefit cattle, farmers, or consumers. Rather, NAIS will create profits for the companies that make the microchips and radio tags, while American consumers will see the price of their beef rise, without any additional safety."

There is no legitimate need for the USDA to launch this massive tracking system. Brand laws, ear tags, and sales records already provide an adequate traceback system that has been used successfully for years. If the goal of the USDA is truly to protect the food supply chain, then the focus should be placed on the packing industry, not on the producer.

Domestic producers are already required to produce a health certificate supplied by an authorized veterinarian at the point of sale. The risk occurs in the feedlots and factories where imported animals and animal products may be added. Meat packers may incorporate imported meat products into hamburger and other non-choice cuts and still receive the USDA stamp of approval. So far, the meat industry has been able to block all efforts to label such imported meats with even the country of origin, to say nothing of any health certification.

Not only is there no need for the NAIS, if it is implemented, it will have devastating effects on producers, consumers, and ultimately, on every American. As currently designed, the program will require that every 4H child, Future Farmer, and every other rural household that has a single cow, horse, chicken, goat, pig, or any other animal that the USDA deems appropriate, to register the premises, tag the animals with an electronic chip, and then report any movement off premises within 24 hours. The animal owner is forced to pay the costs, and could be subject to serious fines or criminal penalties for non-compliance.

Rodeos will be a thing of the past. County fairs will evaporate. The bureaucracy, the cost, and the risk of running afoul of the law simply is not worth the effort for small farmers and ranchers. The corporate giants, who dominate the major trade associations, pay expensive lobbyists, and fill the campaign coffers of politicians, are the real instigators of the NAIS. These are the only people who will benefit from this program by streamlining their vertical integration of the market place. In the end, it is the consumer who will pay the increased costs at the supermarket.

There is another, more serious, negative effect. If the NAIS can be constructed to trace the origin of an animal diseases that may threaten human life, why not use the system to trace human diseases that most certainly threaten human life? Why not require an electronic chip to be placed in every AIDS victim, or every flu victim, or every released felon? A system that can trace the movements of every animal in the nation, could surely just as easily trace the movement of every person in the nation.

Don't laugh, or think for a moment that there are not those who believe this kind of system would be a major improvement over the disorderly "freedom" that Americans enjoy. Political uproar would block the program in an instant, were it being openly developed for people. But once the program is developed for animals, the next step is a very small step, indeed.

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

Other related stories:

  • Backlash building against animal ID system by Henry Lamb (March 20, 2006)
    The federal government's National Animal Identification System is provoking a firestorm of opposition from farmers and ranchers, reports Henry Lamb
  • The Mark of the Beast by Henry Lamb (January 9, 2006)
    It's bad enough that government wants to keep track of all Americans, writes Henry Lamb, but they also want to keep track of all American animals as well

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