Animal owners treated like sex offenders
By Henry Lamb
The program is called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS); it is rolling toward implementation, despite the fact that it has not yet been authorized by Congress. When first introduced, it was scheduled to be mandatory, with every premises, or property, in the nation where livestock animals are housed, registered in a federal database by 2007. Every animal was to be identified by a 15-digit, internationally unique number and tag, by 2008. And by 2009, the movement of any animal off the registered premises, to be reported to the federal government.
Animal owners rebelled, and forced the USDA to rethink its plan. Now, they say the program is "voluntary," but it is far from voluntary. By heaping tax-payer funded grants to state departments of agriculture, and ag-related organizations, the USDA is "partnering" with other organizations that are effectively mandating participation in the program.
For example, in Colorado, Illinois, North Carolina, and elsewhere, students enrolled in 4-H and Future Farmers of America are required to have the premises where their animals are housed, registered in the NAIS before they can participate in state fairs. At least two states have convinced their legislatures to make NAIS participation mandatory at the state level, and other state departments of agriculture are working to do the same.
In its new business plan, released in December, the USDA announced that breed registry organizations will require the use of NAIS-compliant identification numbers. The plan also declares that brands, and other forms of non-electronic identification methods will no longer be acceptable. In some states, where hay has been made available in drought-stricken areas, registration in the NAIS is required before the hay can be distributed.
This indirect coercion is far from "voluntary." It is nothing less than another strong-arm tactic by another agency of big government that fully intends to inflict its will upon the people.
The idea of the NAIS grew out of agencies and sub-organizations of the World Trade Organization. International regulations are evolving that limit export of meat products to countries that utilize an electronic trace-back system. U.S. meat exporters, and the manufacturers of the electronic tags, and tag-reading equipment, have been the driving force behind the NAIS program in the United States. These are the people who will profit from the NAIS, along with the USDA bureaucracy, and their "partner" organizations who receive your tax dollars in the form of generous grants.
The program is being sold to legislators and to the public, as a better way to identify the source of a disease outbreak. This is a ridiculous "sound-good" sales pitch. There has been no outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in more than 75 years. The current system has worked exceedingly well. The only food safety problems arise from the feed lots and processing plants, where the USDA food safety inspectors routinely let tainted meat pass the USDA inspection. This is where the USDA should be focusing its efforts.
Typically, a rancher must have a vet certify that his cattle are healthy before they can be shipped to a processor. Once in the processor's feed lot, the cattle are mixed with cattle from who knows where, often from other countries, where diseases may be present. This should also be a target of the USDA's concern. The NAIS, however, would identify an animal that might become infected in the feed lot, and trace it back to a rancher, thus shifting the blame from the processor to the individual rancher.
The entire NAIS is designed to benefit the big processors, equipment manufacturers, the bureaucracies, and the partner organizations that prostitute themselves to get the government grants. The program will not improve food safety. It will drive small farmers and ranchers out of business by adding additional costs, and unbearable regulatory compliance requirements.
Big government is dreaming about more power, building a bureaucracy that hopes to identify and track hundreds of millions of livestock animals, and the movements of the private citizens who dare take their private property to other locations. A horse owner out for an afternoon ride would have to report to the government. A farmer who sells a pig to a neighbor would have to report to the government.
The only other citizens subject to this stringent government control are convicted sex offenders.
Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.