Saturday, March 7, 2009

Had enough of politics yet?

If you're still all jazzed up to make your opinions known, I urge you to contact the USDA to oppose a new draft rule that goes a significant way toward implementing the National Animal Identification System. The NAIS is a proposed system that effectively tags and catalogs all members of most livestock species in the US, tracks their movements and records specific information about them.

The USDA's main argument in support of the NAIS is that it will improve animal health and food safety... the problem is that it does absolutely nothing to promote animal health. The NAIS is simply a system that provides for the warehousing of billions of pieces of largely irrelevant information. The databases to register properties, identify each animal, and record billions of "events" will dwarf any system currently in existence.

The costs for implementing the program, enforcing compliance, monitoring, and storing the recorded information are astronomical. The USDA has already spent $130 million toward the NAIS without yet developing any workable system. Such a waste of money in these troubled economic times is simply unconscionable. This is an enormous diversion of resources from the far more critical needs under USDA oversight, such as disease testing, disease prevention through vaccination and improved animal husbandry practices, and disease detection--basic biosecurity measures which, properly implemented and sufficiently funded, will do far more to improve herd health and food safety than a national animal tracking system. The NAIS will not prevent food-borne illnesses such as e. coli or salmonella contamination, because the tracking ends at the time of slaughter. If we truly want to protect people from animal-borne diseases the answer is simple: stop feeding animal parts to sheep and cattle, and test slaughtered animals before they enter the food supply. Salmonella and e. coli are best addressed by improved husbandry practices and the improved oversight of slaughterhouses and processing facilities. The truth is, this isn't really about food safety.

Programs such as NAIS that burden small, sustainable farmers will hurt efforts to develop safer, decentralized local food systems. In fact, the NAIS goes a significant way toward reducing the humane and ethical handling of food animals and the cleanliness of small-scale, locally-produced foods. It discourages individual involvement in farming or animal husbandry: because of extremely high costs of participation to the individual farmer, and government intrusion, many people will choose not to participate in food production and animal husbandry, or will refuse compliance. This will result in less competition, greater reliance on centralized, industrialized food sources, worse food quality, less consistent disease reporting and treatment, and fewer choices regarding the source and humane handling of your food animals.

National registration and health surveillance will benefit large-scale, commercial operations by making their products more valuable on a global market... but for the small-scale and family farmer there is absolutely no rational basis for the government to monitor the movements of personally-owned livestock animals. Under the NAIS plan, even the individual owner of a pet riding horse or a few backyard chickens would need to register with the government as a livestock producer, purchase tracking tags, report basic health care information, and report the movements of animals that have absolutely no interaction with the commercial food supply. The whole concept of a national tagging and tracking system for all livestock animals is so mind-bogglingly wasteful and useless, it leads one to wonder who actually does benefit from this system, since it's not the animals and it's not the small-scale farmers. The truth lies in the direction of big agribusiness, the sale of RFID chips, readers and implant equipment for every livestock animal in the country... not to mention the operation of the absolutely monumental databases, privately operated and maintained. The truth lies in in 2002, when the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (membership comprised of entities such as Cargill Pork, Tyson, Micro Beef Technologies, and Global Vet Link) proposed that the USDA develop a "national animal identification system"... companies that would reap the benefits of an enhanced export market and reduced competition without having to bear any of the costs.

In much the same way that the USDA regulates and oversees large-scale, commercial dog breeding operations but does not interfere with the good work of the small-scale hobby breeder's activities, a NAIS could be implemented toward the greater oversight of feedlots and factory farms without impacting local, small-scale, homestead, and family-farm operations. Please urge the USDA to end their support of a system that only benefits big agribusiness and will do great harm to local and humane food production. Follow the link below to visit the USDA's public comments forum and make your opinion known. Click the talk-bubble next to "add comments" to do just that.

The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has some good stuff to say on the subject... much clearer and more succinct than my thoughts, I'm sure. Be sure to check the "Focus on Horses" link on the right side for more information on the NAIS impact for horse owners.

Another very tidy summary can be found at the website of the LibertyArk Coalition. The thing that freaks me out the most about this is how far we've gone toward full implementation without any kind of public discussion on the matter. It's an issue that's totally off the radar, unless you happen to be a livestock owner. I am not, currently, but hope to be someday soon. More importantly, I care very much about where my food comes from. I feel very strongly about local food production, sustainability, biodiversity, and the ability of people to feed themselves from the ground up. I want us to continue to have food options that don't involve factories, that don't involve the horrific conditions of large feedlots and commercial slaughterhouses. I want to be able to grow my own chickens and keep a pig around without it being anyone's business but my own. I want to take trail rides and go camping without notifying the government of my movements. This system is frightening in its scope and impact. I can't urge you strongly enough to look into the issue, and to make your opinions known.


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