What is Happening and What You Can Do
In June, USDA published a “Guide for Small-Scale and Non-Commercial Producers.” While this document is filled with feel-good statements that would lead many to think the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will not apply to them, it is short on substance and is not consistent with USDA’s other documents or actions. Rather, the USDA’s plans for NAIS will still fall heavily on the small farmers who provide the nutrient-dense foods on which we all rely.
The True Meaning of “Voluntary”
The previous USDA NAIS documents are still in effect. USDA has not withdrawn its 2005 Draft Plan and Strategic Standards, nor the April 2006 Strategies for Implementation. When you read all these documents together, it is clear that NAIS is not a “voluntary” program. USDA is merely spin-doctoring, playing a misleading word game.
The USDA has not adopted regulations making NAIS a mandatory program at this time, but that is only a temporary situation. The 2005 Draft Plan explicitly stated that the entire program–premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking–was to become mandatory by January 2009. The 2006 Strategies document extended the timeline somewhat, but maintained that every animal owner in this country must participate: “To have a successful animal disease management program, all producers and affected industry segments will have to participate eventually.” The USDA established a January 2009 deadline to have 100% of premises registered and 100% of all animals under the age of 1 year identified, with the remainder of the program to be phased in. The USDA also stated: “If participation rates are not adequate, the development of regulations through normal rulemaking procedures will be considered to require participation in certain aspects of the program.” In other words, while there are no federal regulations at this time, USDA keeps the threat of such regulations hanging over our heads.
Even now, NAIS is not a voluntary program. USDA is driving mandatory implementation by funding state NAIS programs with tens of millions of our tax dollars. Wisconsin and Indiana have already adopted regulations making premises registration mandatory. Other states are following their lead; Vermont has proposed regulations, while Pennsylvania is considering a statute. States all over the country are enrolling people in the premises registration program without those individuals’ permission. And in contrast to USDA’s assertion in this Guide that there are “no enforcement mechanisms or penalties,” Wisconsin’s regulations provide for revocation of licenses and penalties of up to $1,000 for failure to register, while the proposed Texas regulations included fines of up to $1,000 per day and even criminal penalties. To claim that NAIS is “voluntary” is contrary to the normal definition of this term. The USDA is redefining words in the tradition of George Orwell’s 1984.
The USDA’s Guide also seeks to downplay the onerous reporting requirements. Yet, as noted above, the Guide does not state that it supercedes the 2005 USDA documents, which set out the reporting requirements. The published Program Standards provided that a laundry list of “events” would have to be reported within 24 hours. Although the Guide provides a list of half a dozen specific scenarios for which reporting allegedly would not be required, these scenarios do not materially reduce the burden on small and non-commercial producers.
The Guide creates one very minor exception to the list of reportable events for animals that are born on the property, never leave the property, and are taken off only for custom slaughter for personal consumption. In practical terms, this exception is meaningless. The vast majority of individuals who raise food for themselves buy young animals, such as baby chicks or weaned calves, from other sources. Maintaining a breeding herd or flock is expensive and time-consuming, and not feasible for most individuals to do just for personal consumption. And the exception explicitly does not apply to small farmers who sell even a few chickens or lamb to others. Thousands of people who consider themselves “small or non-commercial” producers buy and sell animals during their lives. This scenario is only relevant for government bureaucrats who have never raised their own food.
Confusion and Contradiction
The USDA’s attempt to make people feel better about NAIS even leads it to contradict itself within the document. USDA states that “participation in local fairs and parades” will be exempt from reporting. But, elsewhere, USDA states that: “Reportable movements are those that involve a high risk of spreading disease, such as moving livestock from a farm to an event where a large numbers of animals are brought together from many sources.” Local fairs and parades certainly bring large numbers of animals from many sources together! Along with not raising their own food, the USDA officials have apparently also never been to a local fair.
How Do We Stop NAIS?
Because of the way that USDA has structured its plan, we must fight NAIS at both the state and the national levels. The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of farmers, ranchers, livestock owners, and homesteaders. We have joined forces with the Liberty Ark Coalition, a single-purpose coalition dedicated to defeating the National Animal Identification System. Together, FARFA and Liberty Ark have taken the lead in fighting NAIS nationally. We need everyone’s help to be an effective voice in Congress and in each state.
We worked with Congressman Ron Paul to introduce an amendment in the House of Representatives to cut off funding for NAIS. While the amendment failed, it provided the opportunity to educate Congress–for the first time–about the problems with NAIS. FARFA’s work was even quoted on the floor of the House. It will take multiple battles to win this fight, but we have started to make our presence known nationally. In addition, Liberty Ark has been networking activists in over 20 states to help them effectively oppose NAIS at the state level.
Each individual can do many things to stop NAIS. Educate your friends, local farmers, and consumers about what NAIS is and the need to take action. We have materials to help you do this–flyers, petitions, sample letters–on the citizens’ action page at www.farmandranchfreedom.org. At the local level, ask your county and city officials to adopt a resolution opposing NAIS. Stay informed about what is happening by signing up for free emails at www.farmandranchfreedom.org/list/?p=subscribe. And take the pledge as a Liberty Ark supporter at www.libertyark.net so we can connect you with other activists in your state.
Working together, we can protect our ability to raise and buy healthy foods from local farmers.