Fighting to Stop the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
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The NAIS Story
If fully adopted and implemented, the likely outcome of NAIS is that animal ownership increasingly will be limited to large entities who can afford to comply and who are willing to accept the governmental intrusion. Yet this "feel good" program will do virtually nothing to safeguard animal health, its alleged purpose. Rather, NAIS will do all of the following:
So what is this program and how did it develop?
The concept of an electronic national animal identification system was started back in the early 1990s, by technology companies seeking to expand their market, and large agricultural entities seeking to protect their ability to sell their mass produced meat on the world market.
Their efforts culminated in 2002, when the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) proposed that the USDA develop a "national animal identification system" (NAIS). While NIAA may sound like a public interest organization, its membership reads like a who's who in industrial agriculture and technology, including entities such as Cargill Pork, Tyson, National Pork Producers Council, and Global Vet Link.
Notably, the NIAA developed the national animal identification system more than a year and a half before the first case of Mad Cow was found in the U.S. Over the course of three years, USDA and NIAA worked together to develop the NAIS and inform the large-scale livestock producer community, while ignoring hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected.
The Federal Plan
After it took up the task from Industry, the USDA developed the plan through working groups, made up of representatives from government agencies, large agribusinesses, and technology companies. Notably absent from these workgroups were any significant representatives of pet owners, recreational animal owners, and small farmers and ranchers. Much of the work of these workgroups has yet to be completed, yet industry is rushing to make this program mandatory and implemented nationwide, without regard to the price to be paid by consumers and the average animal owner.
On April 25, 2005, the USDA released "Draft Program Standards" ("Standards") and a "Draft Strategic Plan" ("Plan") for the NAIS. The Standards and Plan have no authority in law. The USDA has stated that the Animal Health Protection Act of 2002 is the source of its authority. (Plan at 9.) But that statute addresses only the import and export of animals, interstate travel, quarantines areas, and related programs. Two Congresses have tried, but failed to pass legislation that would amend the Act to provide for a mandatory electronic tracking system for individual head of livestock. USDA is operating without authority from Congress. Currently, there are three bills in Congress, trying to give postdated authority to this assault on our freedom. The existence of these bills proves that there is no Congressional authority for USDA to establish a mandatory animal identification system.
USDA, various state agencies, and many private companies who have vested financial interests in seeing NAIS adopted have tried to present an image of the NAIS as a sensible, practical plan to address animal disease. A review of the government's plan, however, shows quite the opposite. The current NAIS Plan provides:
The Alleged Rationale: Disease Control
The alleged rationale for this program is to protect against animal disease by providing 48-hour traceback of all animal movements. The proponents raise the specter of Mad Cow, foot and mouth, avian flu, and other "foreign animal diseases." There are many flaws with this rationale.
The first flaw is that the threat of disease cannot justify every intrusion into our privacy and property rights. Disease, both human and animal, has been part of our existence for millennia. The government's and industry's attempt to use fear to deprive us of our rights is unacceptable.
Second, even when viewed solely from the perspective of animal disease problems, the NAIS is unnecessary, ineffective, and even counterproductive. The government already has established systems and processes, including surveillance, tracking, and quarantines, for controlling the spread of animal diseases. In contrast to the established systems, this new program is impractical; the technology is flawed, the database would be unmanageable, and the logistics of actually tagging and tracking the animals would dwarf any government program in existence. The costs will roll downhill to the smallest producer and individual animal owner. There are no provisions for USDA to offset the staggering costs of this national program.
Moreover, the tracking of animal disease 48 hours later does little to address either the prevention of diseases or the safety of our food supply. If we want to protect Americans from Mad Cow disease, for example, the answer is simple: stop feeding animal parts to cattle and test animals that are slaughtered before they enter the food chain. The problems of salmonella and e. coli in our food supply can also be best addressed by prevention and proper inspection of slaughterhouses. Tracking will not solve these problems.
The idea that a one-size-fits-all tracking program could address the issue of animal disease shows a complete lack of understanding of biology and animal management. As is well documented in the scientific literature, the susceptibility of animals to disease and the likelihood of transmission differ greatly depending on the conditions under which the animals are kept. Yet the NAIS makes no distinction between farmers raising a small herd of sheep and cattle on carefully-tended pastures, and a feedlot with hundreds of animals crowded into small pens, hock-deep in manure; there is no distinction between a pastured poultry operation where the birds are moved daily and sunlight kills any pathogens and confinement operations with 10,000 chickens living in an unsanitary, crowded building. This program is precisely the opposite of what is needed to prevent and control disease.
Indeed, NAIS will probably increase the spread of livestock diseases by creating a new black market. If these new regulations are adopted, it is inevitable that some people will not comply - whether for religious reasons, economic reasons, or unwillingness to allow the government intrusion. Since they will be acting illegally, they will be far less likely to seek a veterinarian's help should a disease problem arise.
The Secondary Alleged Rationale: The Export Market
The USDA has stated that NAIS is also necessary to protect the U.S.'s export market. Yet a voluntary program would suffice to address exports. Such a program would allow the market to determine how valuable it is to track animals from birth to death. Any farmer that wishes to export animals or food to other countries could enroll in the program; in turn, these exporters could refuse to buy from anyone who was not also enrolled in the tracking program. There is no reason to impose the heavy burdens of NAIS on the thousands of farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, and companion animal owners who have no interest in being part of the commercial chain.
The Real Reasons
Given that the stated reasons for NAIS are insupportable, one has to look for the true reasons for this program. In searching for the truth, it is helpful to look at who is advocating the program.
First, the large industrial agriculture entities, such as Cargill Pork and Tyson, support this program. These entities will reap all of the benefits from the enhanced export market, without bearing the costs that will be imposed on the people actually raising the animals and/or taxpayers. Moreover, by creating such a burdensome program, the industrial agriculture can rid itself of the small, but rapidly-growing, local foods movement that threatens its monopoly and its ability to complete the vertical integration of our food supply.
Second, various technology companies also stand to profit from this program. Global Vet Link, Micro Beef Technologies, and Digital Angel are all members of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and involved in the working groups developing the details of the plans. Such companies not only make the microchips and radiotags, but charge for software and related equipment necessary to operate these systems.
Third, the large associations support this program, even though most of their members are opposed. While this is puzzling at first, it is yet again an issue of following the money. The USDA has stated that the database with all of the NAIS information will be privately-held, to avoid Freedom of Information Act issues. There has been repeated discussion that NAIS will actually consist of multiple databases. Many large livestock and companion animal breed associations already operate significant databases with information on livestock animal owners, and are perfectly positioned to become contractors and subcontractors for the NAIS database. The government will mandate registration and reporting, and the private organizations will be able to charge as they like, because their "customers" are captives of NAIS.
The Real Effects
So if NAIS will not solve animal disease problems, what will it do?
It is critical that everyone learn what is happening in their state. NAIS is not a federal mandate. The USDA has no statutory authority to implement NAIS. Each state is free to decide for itself whether or not to implement an animal identification system.
So find out if your state already has legislation or is implementing NAIS without legislation. If there is legislation, is the state agency working on regulations to implement it? If there isn't legislation, then how is it that your state is setting up its program? You, and your friends, have the capability to block and/or force the repeal of any laws. Tell your neighbors about this attack on our civil liberties.
Liberty Ark Coalition
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