I can remember when 1984 was a scary book. Today, it seems that we worry only about those things that we’re told to worry about, and accept the answers that are given to us, no questions asked. On September 11, 2001, three passenger planes were crashed into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, while a fourth came to fiery rest in a Pennsylvania field. Less than a month later, the USA PATRIOT Act was introduced in Congress, to be signed – more than 300 pages of it – on October 26, 2001 with few objections from the public or its elected representatives.
I am not about to join those conspiracy theorists who claim that an agency of the United States government was responsible for the 9-11 attacks, but it does seem clear to me that the USA PATRIOT Act had been already prepared, waiting in the wings for just such an occasion.
United States citizens were happy to trade in their rights for the sense of security offered by this Act.
Certainly the 9-11 attacks justified the media frenzy that followed it, but it also served a number of purposes that our government took full advantage of. But that’s not what this article is about.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve been subjected to a series of media scares relating to our meat supply. From Mad Cow, to swine flu, to e.Coli, to mutant flesh-eating viruses, and now the Avian flu, we’ve been led to believe that if we don’t act immediately, we’re all going to die.
Enter the National Animal Identification System, a governmental program which utilizes public-private partnerships in an attempt to identify and track every animal in the United States.
And despite the fact that we haven’t had a single case of Mad Cow or the Avian flu transmitted to humans in the United States, and that the NAIS couldn’t possibly do a thing to prevent contaminations of our meat supply occurring after the meat has been processed, we’re all expected to expel a deep sigh of relief.
Uncle Sam has come through for us again.
But at what cost?
The National Animal Identification System will force farmers, hobbyists, and even pet owners to register each animal they own, and tag that animal with an identifying tag, band, or implanted electronic chip, for the purpose of tracking that animal through the food chain whether or not it even enters the food chain.
When fully implemented in January of 2009, the NAIS will require two types of mandatory registration: registration of the premises, and registration of the animal.
Anyone who owns even one horse, cow, pig, sheep, chicken, pigeon, or any other livestock animal will be required to register their home, including the owner’s name and other identifying information, along with the address of your farm or home, to be keyed to global positioning system (GPS) coordinates in a federal database under a 7-digit “premises ID number.”
Additionally, each animal will have to be identified with a 15-digit ID number, also to be kept in the federal database. Even if you are raising your own food, your animal will be required to have an ID number if it is to be sent to a slaughterhouse. Animals that do not have an ID number cannot be bought or sold, or used to obtain stud service.
Any animal that leaves the owner’s premises for any reason will be required to have an ID number, and be tagged. This includes animals that are shown, as well as horses that may be ridden off of the owner’s property.
The costs of this program are to be shared by the animal owners and the larger base of taxpayers, meaning that there are likely to be significant fees connected with full implementation of the NAIS program.
Large-scale meat producers are on board with the program, perhaps because they’ll be given a break. Large herds of cattle, pigs, or other animals raised and processed together can be identified by a single group ID number, while farmers and ranchers with small groups of animals will, in most cases, have to identify each animal individually for purposes of breeding, sale, or slaughter. If you own two cows, a horse, and twelve chickens, each would require an individual ID number if the animal is ever to leave your property for any reason, or have any contact (commingling) with any other animal.
The form of identification will most likely be an ear tag or implanted microchip containing a radio frequency identification device (RFID) which can be read from a distance. In addition to RFID tags, some industries may require the use of retinal scans or DNA identification for all animals.
The costs associated with this program may well be beyond the reach of small farmers and hobbyists, and make it impractical, from an economic standpoint, for people to raise their own meat.
The costs are not only economic, but time consuming as well. Within the system, animal owners will be required to report the birth date of each animal, including chickens, as well as the application of the animal’s ID tag. Every time the animal enters or leaves the premises, this will have to be reported. When a tag is lost or replaced, this will need to be reported. If an animal dies, or goes missing, there will have to be a report. These events will have to be reported to the government within 24 hours.
With full implementation of this program in 2009, the USDA intends to ensure compliance with NAIS regulations in a manner not yet specified, but which could be expected to include fines or seizure of animals.
Another possible reason for the enthusiastic support of the NAIS program by large-scale meat producers is that, as stakeholders in the program, they will likely have control over much of it, perhaps putting them in a position to exert economic pressures on competing small farmers and homesteaders.
Will implementation of the NAIS make our meat supply safer? Probably not, and it’s not likely that we’d know if it did. It’s not like people are dropping like flies from Mad Cow disease, as it is. The NAIS might be compared to using a cannon to hunt black flies in February.
The NAIS is likely to drive small meat producers out of business, placing an unfair economic burden on the traditional American businesses that have fed us since we’ve existed as a nation. Once the program is established, animal owners will bear the costs associated with the requirements for registration, identification, and reporting.
Costs to large-scale producers of meat will be absorbed by consumers, raising the cost of living for all of us.
The NAIS will prevent many people from raising animals for their own food. The NAIS is said to be necessary in order to make our food supply secure against disease or terrorism, yet what can be more secure than raising your own food or buying from a local farmer who you actually know?
What of those, such as the Amish in Smyrna, who may have a religious objection to participating in a system of electronically numbering and identifying their animals? When fully implemented, the NAIS is a compulsory registration with the government of all people who wish to raise their own animals for food. As written, the NAIS will force these people to make a choice between abandoning their livestock or violating their religious beliefs.
As I read the documentation put out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and as I have searched for additional information on this program, I was struck by the fact that so little has been said about it in the media. Search engine results yield almost exclusively web sites put out by various federal and state agencies, and associations of large-scale meat producers, all of whom are enthusiastically supporting this program.
Sadly, it seems that opposition to the program appears to be limited to the Countryside & Small Stock Journal, published in Wisconsin, and someone in a forum on the Mother Earth News site.
Further information about the National Animal Identification System can be found online at www.usaip.info/. Please read it through for yourselves, but the scariest stuff that I found came from the USAIP’s own FAQs. You’ll find that when they ask a question and answer it no, the text often goes on to explain that, when the plan is fully implemented, the answer will be yes.
Never one to pass up federal funds or to neglect an opportunity to make government bigger, the State of Maine has implemented its own program, funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its web site can be found at www.maine.gov/agriculture/idme/.
Although it seems to be slow in coming, there is yet time for an outcry over this program to have some effect. Small farmers and landowners can take action to oppose implementation of this plan.
First, do not participate in the “voluntary” state program to register either your farm or your animals, as they’ll use your willingness to participate in the program as justification for making it mandatory for everyone in the near future. If state or federal officials urge you to register either your premises or your animals, ask them whether your participation is voluntary or mandatory. Ask to see a copy of any legislation that gives them the authority to require compliance.
More importantly, contact any farming, breeding, or other associations that you might be a member of, asking them to oppose the NAIS. Ask these organizations to sponsor letter-writing campaigns to elected officials, both state and federal. Individually, you can write to your state and federal legislators. Letters sent via the postal service carry more weight than emails or form letters, but anything is better than nothing.
The United States Department of Agriculture plans the issuance of a NAIS rule for public comment in July of 2006. Be aware of this when the time comes, and be prepared to submit an individual comment opposing this rule.
Also, you should be aware of any state rules that might mandate earlier compliance. For example, Maine farmers are already being encouraged to voluntarily join the state’s ID program, and it intends to implement mandatory registration of livestock premises by March 7, 2005.
I am surprised, and discouraged, that there isn’t already an outcry over this program.
” … and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.” — Rev. 13:17 (NASB)
National Animal Identification System Timeline
- April, 2005 — The USDA issued its Draft Strategic Plan & Draft Program Standards for public comment, which ended in July of 2005.
- July, 2006 — The target date for the USDA to issue a proposed rule setting forth the requirements for NAIS premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking. There will be a limited public comment period after publication of the rule.
- Fall, 2007 — The USDA will publish a final rule to establish the requirements of the mandatory NAIS.
- January, 2008 — Premises registration and animal identification become mandatory.
- January, 2009 — Animal tracking becomes mandatory, including enforcement of the reporting of all animal movements.
This article was reprinted with permission from “All Maine Matters” which can be found online at www.allmainematters.com.