National Animal Identification - Do you know about this program?
What is the National Animal Identification System?
What Can I Do?
This is an article that I wrote for the Libertarian Party Newsletter of Colorado. Feel free to copy it and pass it around.
National Animal Identification System – What is it and why is it a bad idea?
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a plan by the Government to develop a comprehensive information system that will support ongoing animal disease monitoring, surveillance, and eradication programs. It is as of yet still in development. The basic tenants of this program revolve around “Premises ID” and individual “Animal ID”. The Draft Strategic Plan put forth by the USDA states “There is broad support for NAIS among government, industry, and public stakeholders.”, when in fact the program has had very little publicity up until lately. The “Industry” that supports this program seems to be only the large “Ag Corps” and not the small family farmers, hobby farmers and self sufficient homesteaders. The National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) which has pursued a National ID program, includes such well-known industry entities as Cargill Meat Solutions, Monsanto Company, Schering-Plough, and the National Pork Producers Council. Further, of those NIAA members listed as “National Associations and Commercial Organizations,” nearly 25% appear to be manufacturers and marketers of identification technology systems. The Draft Strategic Plan cites surveys that are overwhelmingly in favor of a mandatory program of monitoring, but fails to disclose how many people were surveyed and what their interest was, rendering the statistics meaningless.
The “risk of an outbreak of a foreign animal disease” is given as one of the driving forces behind this program. However, the USDA is busily assuring us that our current programs in place are totally adequate for the protection of our food supply. The diseases of main concern are listed as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). FMD is a disease of primarily economic importance and is not transmissible to humans. It can have devastating effects on the herds it affects but is not a threat to the food supply. There has not been, to my knowledge, a case of FMD in the US in 70 years. To date, we have had only two cases of BSE in the US. The banning of meat and bone meal in ruminant feed has reduced the risk of BSE and it would occur only in older cattle that may have contracted BSE before the changes in feed regulations. No humans in the US have contracted BSE or the variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or at least none have been diagnosed or reported that I know of. Simply testing all slaughtered cattle for BSE would eliminate the risk to the food supply. This would be an easy and relatively cheap fix,to a minor problem. Primarily, BSE is an economic problem affecting export of beef to other countries. As an aside, since the idea for the program is to protect the food supply, why are horses included in this program? Most of the people I know who raise horses don’t eat them.
NAIS would be a tremendously expensive program, in a year when the overall Dept. of Agriculture budget is proposed to be cut by 3% to $92.8 billion. The program funding proposal presented in the President’s budget proposal is for $33 million to be spent on NAIS. However the Draft Plan makes it clear that the producers would have to bear the cost of this plan. Most small producers operate on the edge anyway and the added cost of NAIS is very likely to cause some of them to go out of business. The tags that are being considered are RFID tags, which mean that the equipment to read the tags would have to be available. While the USDA won’t “force” you to purchase a reader, operations with more that one species of animal and several of each species would find it extremely time consuming (not to mention expensive) to have to travel to the nearest “tagging station” every time a tag needed to be read. Some species (goats) are very hard on ear tags, with a very poor retention rate. Most owners of show animals don’t want to punch holes in their prize animal’s ears, with the attendant issues of disfigurement and infection. The only ones who are really enthusiastic about RFID tags seem to be the manufacturers. Talk about a captive market! You have to buy it, from them of course, and you have to replace lost tags. Plus, every year there are new animals needing tags. This is a goldmine for the tag producers (who by the way support NAIS enthusiastically). Note, that the large producers (feedlots and such) will not be held to the same standards as the small producer. Tagging would not be required of all animals, only a lot ID would be required, with all animals in it, supposedly, staying together until slaughter. I can see many opportunities for mistakes and outright fraud in this approach. The USDA admits fraud and counterfeit tags would be a problem.
The biggest objection I have heard to NAIS is that it is an invasion of privacy. Livestock is considered private property and it is unconscionable that the government will require all livestock owners to not only report how many and what kind of animals they have, but where they are and where they go every time they “co-mingle” with other animals. This would set a very dangerous legal precedent. What other kinds of private property would the government then consider “fair game”?
The information would be kept in a large data base, which the USDA admits that they would not be able to guarantee would stay secure. Privatization of the data base was being considered, but the plan has been changed, just recently, due to objections that a private database could not and should not be entrusted with data that the government collected from producers. The USDA professes to be concerned about “bioterrorism”, yet wants to collect information about all of the livestock producers in one neat tidy package, just waiting for some hacker to break in and use it. Any data base can be hacked and the government should know that!
Many animal owners simply would not comply with the regulations and the USDA would have to spend many tens of thousands of dollars tracking down these people and I can imagine many of the cases would end up in court, costing more thousands of dollars, none of which would further the end of preventing the spread of disease. The professed mission of the USDA is to promote farming, agriculture, and the rural way of life, not being the “farm police”. In conclusion, the USDA’s Mandatory Property and Animal Surveillance Program is an affront to the Constitution of the United States and the rights guaranteed her citizens. It will be costly and ineffective, and will do nothing to protect our food supply. Indeed, if an infected animal is found in one of the slaughterhouses, I suspect the corporation owning the animal will use the program to point a finger at the original owner of the animal, disclaim any responsibility for harm and tell the public what a shining beacon they are for protecting the common citizen from the terrible threat of disease.
NAIS is only the tip of the iceberg. The erosion of our constitution rights will continue unless we stand up and object, loudly!!
Leslie, The Goat Source
NAIS Goat Working Group Members:
Copyright The Goatsource 2006