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Why Zeke can't take Shorty to the fair

By Henry Lamb
web posted September 17, 2007

Zeke lived with an FFA teacher because he had no other home.  He worked for his room and board; he fed the pigs and chickens, and helped with the milking.  The summer between the 8th and 9th grades, Jasper, the FFA teacher, took Zeke to a neighbor's ranch and let him pick out a day-old Hereford bull for his first FFA project.  The deal was that Jasper would pay for the calf, and for the feed, and Zeke could repay Jasper when the calf grew to become the Grand Champion Steer at the state fair, and sold at the fair's annual auction.

Zeke had never had anything of his very own before.  He was ecstatic.  When he got home with the calf, the first chore was to transform the calf into a steer.  It hurt Zeke a lot more than it hurt Shorty - so named because the day-old calf only came up to Zeke's belt buckle.  Zeke piled the hay high in Shorty's stall, and bottle-fed the little one three times a day.

Before Shorty had his legs securely under him, Zeke had him in a rope halter and led him around the barn - every day, before the morning milking, and after the evening meal.  Shorty became a pet, a friend.  Zeke and Shorty were inseparable.  Shorty would romp and run with Zeke to the south pasture to bring the cows up for milking. 

Every day for more than a year, Zeke groomed and trained Shorty to be a show steer, first, for the county fair, and then for the state fair.  Shorty grew.  When the county fair came around, Shorty moved at Zeke's command, with or without a halter; he weighed 923 pounds, his coat was deep red and wavy.  His classic white face and pink nose held high and still while the judges walked around and noted his level back and square hind-quarter, all four feet planted firmly under each corner.

He won!  The purple Grand-Prize ribbon went to Shorty, trained by Zeke, his first project as a Future Farmer of America!

Now to the state fair. 

Jasper was unusually quiet, as they loaded Shorty into the trailer.  He said very little on the 25-mile ride back to the ranch.  Zeke stayed at the barn late that night, grooming, and telling Shorty how proud he was.  The sky fell, the next morning at breakfast.

"You can't go to the state fair," Jasper said calmly.

"Why not, Shorty will win.  You know he will win.  Why can't we go?"

"The State fair won't let us unload, unless I register the ranch in a government database," Jasper explained.

"That's not hard.  Does it cost a lot?"

"It doesn't cost much, but the government has no business knowing how many chickens, pigs, cows, goats, horses, and geese we have here.  There is no law that requires me to register - yet - and it is just ridiculous that the state fair is demanding this registration before they let you show Shorty."

Zeke is not going to the North Carolina state fair.  There is no law in North Carolina, nor is there a federal law that requires North Carolina farmers and ranchers to register in the USDA's National Animal Identification System, yet the state fair officials are imposing their own requirement.

Colorado state fair officials imposed a similar restriction - without the benefit of law.  Zeke, and hundreds, if not thousands of other children, are being used as leverage to coerce farm and ranch owners to sign up in the NAIS - which the USDA insists is a "voluntary" program.  Of course, the USDA hands out grants to organizations such as the FFA, and state departments of agriculture to use "creative" measures to expand the "voluntary" registration.                                    
Zeke thinks the man who made this rule should be horsewhipped.   Jasper won't go quite that far, but he thinks the man should be removed from his job for abusing his authority, and penalizing kids who have worked all year to compete at the state level.

The National Animal Identification System is sold to the public as a disease control system.  It is not.   It offers nothing to prevent disease, nor to control disease any better than the various systems that are now in place. 

The NAIS was created to enrich the corporations that make and maintain the electronic tags and computer reading devices, and the major meat exporters who cannot export to rich markets unless the U.S. conforms to international regulations that require an electronic trace-back system.

These major marketing forces don't seem to care that the electronic tagging devices have been shown to cause cancer in certain animals.  They do not care about the extra cost and effort that is required of every owner of even one livestock animal.  And they don't give a whit about Zeke, and his bitter disappointment when he could not take Shorty to the state fair. ESR

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


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