The Grassroots Fight Against NAIS Continues
People oppose the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) for a variety of reasons: the intrusion into our privacy, the burden on property rights, the monetary cost, and the time and management burdens. Many of us fear that NAIS, together with other government-industry programs, will lead to the total control of our food supply by government.
A recent statement by the Michigan State veterinarian provided a disturbing, concrete image for these fears. Dr. Steven Halstead stated: “USDA would prefer that we have a system like Mexico’s, where to move between states, cattle haulers are stopped at gates by armed guards. Our program has a lot of components in place for tracking animals, and they are effective. But nothing is as secure as a guy at a gate with a gun.”1
Picture one of our raw milk farmers wanting to cross between Ohio and Pennsylvania, only to be met by armed guards. This may be what the USDA would like, but it’s not a system any of us want to live under!
So what is happening with NAIS? The last few months have seen multiple developments at every level: Congress, government agencies, and private entities. This article will review the highlights, and then discuss what each person can do to help preserve our rights and our food supply.
NAIS In Congress
In the last issue of Wise Traditions, I discussed the problems with connecting the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN) had inserted a provision into the Farm Bill that would allow the US Department of Agriculture to use mandatory animal identification to implement COOL, allowing the USDA to tie the horrendously unpopular NAIS program to the popular COOL program.
In June and July, WAPF sent Action Alerts urging our members to tell Congress to take out the provision for mandatory animal identification. The action alerts also notified members about another very damaging provision in the Farm Bill, Section 123, which would have pre-empted local and state regulations of any agricultural or food product that USDA had granted “nonregulated” status. This provision would have deprived citizens of their rights to enact laws to protect health and public safety at the local level and impacted efforts to regulate such things as genetically engineered foods and crops. (Paid members of the Weston A. Price Foundation receive emailed action alerts, which are also posted on www.westonaprice.org. If you don’t have email/computer access, you might consider setting up a phone tree with someone who does, so that you can stay informed at critical moments in the future.)
In fighting these provisions, WAPF was joined by several other grassroots organizations, including the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Organic Consumers Association. The public pressure forced the House Agriculture Committee to reconsider, and both provisions were taken out of the Farm Bill before it was approved by the House in July. This is a victory worth celebrating!
At the same time, while the House did not mandate NAIS, neither did it put a stop to it. Shortly after approving the Farm Bill, the House of Representatives approved the 2008 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which provides funding for USDA. The bill did not include funding for NAIS under that name, but it did include funding for closely related programs: the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium and the Farm Animal Identification and Records program. So while we’ve made progress, the fight is not over yet.
During the month of September, the Senate will work on its versions of the Farm Bill and Agriculture Appropriations bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended twenty million dollars in new funding for NAIS, and the fight to reduce or eliminate that funding will be a focus during September.
Government Funding For Private Entities
While Congress seems to be questioning whether NAIS is such a good idea after all, the USDA isn’t slowing down much. It has announced agreements with multiple private entities to promote NAIS. These efforts include paying the Future Farmers of America (FFA) $600,000 in the coming year. Of course, that money comes with strings attached, and FFA must sign up a specific number of people in order to get each quarter’s funding. Even before this grant was announced, the Colorado Extension Service established a policy that all children participating in 4-H or FFA events would have to register under NAIS. The same policy has been established in multiple counties in other states, as well. This use of children to implement NAIS over the objections of adults is deeply disturbing.
Another group receiving USDA funding to promote the NAIS is the US Animal Identification Organization (USAIO). The USAIO was created by the American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Bison Association, and other pro-NAIS entities to manage the “industry-led” databases. In other words, the USAIO is intended to be the huge, centralized database for all of NAIS, under the control of organizations and individuals that have repeatedly placed the interests of multinational meat packer corporations above the interests of farmers. Some grassroots activists proclaimed a victory a few months ago when the USAIO became “inactive” due to lack of participation, but unfortunately that proved to be simply a temporary move, and the USAIO is back in full swing now.
Along with FFA and the USAIO, the American Angus Association and the National Milk Producers Federation have also been awarded grants by USDA to promote NAIS. If you are a member of any of these organizations, consider either quitting or asking the boards for a membership vote on whether they should be involved in NAIS. If you decide to quit, be sure to tell them why you are leaving the organization, namely their support of NAIS!
NAIS And The Government Accountability Office
The long-awaited Government Accountability Office report on NAIS was finally released, and proved to be a disappointment.2 The GAO started with the assumption that NAIS would be an effective means of addressing animal disease, even though there is absolutely no evidence to support this assumption! Working from that assumption, the GAO seriously criticized USDA’s means of implementing the program. Disturbingly, the GAO recommends that the USDA reinstate its targets for participation and the threats to make the program mandatory if enough people do not “volunteer.”
Among other things, the GAO had been asked to investigate the costs of NAIS, and its report criticized USDA for not doing a cost-benefit analysis during the last four years. Yet, rather than doing its own analysis, the GAO skirted responsibility by noting that USDA has finally contracted with Kansas State University to do a cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, one has to question whether the analysis will be very thorough when it’s being done by a land-grant university supported by the USDA.
Making A Difference
Overall, the news is mixed—Congress seems to be having second thoughts about NAIS, while the agency and industry players keep forging ahead. Yet even the partial victories in the fight against NAIS show that we can make a difference. If it were not for the people who have spoken out in opposition to NAIS, we would already have mandatory regulations in Texas, Vermont, and other states, and Congress most likely would have mandated the program directly. So keep up the good work!
Just as with WAPF, the first step is education— you teach, you teach, you teach. So start by educating your community about what NAIS is all about. Put out petitions or flyers at local businesses and livestock events, write letters to the editor, or organize a town hall meeting. Materials to help with your efforts are available online at www.farmandranchfreedom.org and www.libertyark.net.
Education doesn’t stop there. Along with your community, you need to educate your elected officials! I spent ten days in Washington, DC in July, lobbying against NAIS, and I found that many Congressmen are still ignorant about NAIS or are missing some important facts. The Farm Bill will most likely be completed by the time you read this article, but there will be many important battles in the months to come. Each person reading this article can take important steps to help in that fight. Here are some suggestions for how to be effective in educating your legislators:
- Call them today. Calling at critical moments, such as the vote on the Farm Bill, is important. But it’s best if the legislators and their staffers understand the issue ahead of time. Educating them is also critical to getting your legislators to introduce a bill or amendment for our side, rather than introducing a bad amendment or bill we later have to oppose.
- When you call, start by mentioning that you are a constituent. Then ask to speak to the person who handles agricultural issues. Write down that person’s name.
- If you are transferred to voice mail, leave a short message about why you are calling, and ask them to call you back. Be sure to leave your name, phone number, the fact that you are a constituent, and the fact that you are concerned about NAIS.
- If your call is not returned within a few days, call again. This time ask for the staffer by name (since you wrote it down the first time). If you act like you already know the person, you are more likely to get through, rather than being put into voice mail.
- Whenever you talk with a staffer, have a real conversation. Don’t just tell them you’re against NAIS. Ask them whether they have heard of NAIS and what they know about it. Finding out what they know will help you determine what to say next. Keep the conversation brief but explain who you are, why you’re against NAIS, and why there are many better ways to address animal health and food safety.
- Mention that you support the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, and ask that the staffer talk with us to learn more about NAIS. This information not only gives them a source for more details, but by letting them know who we are, they will pay attention when we contact them.
- Follow up by sending the staffer a thank you note, either by email or fax.
- Call me (toll-free 866-687-6452) or email me (Judith (at) farmandranchfreedom.org) so I can follow up on the contacts you make. Tell me who you spoke with (both the legislator’s and the staffer’s names) and a little bit about their response. I can then provide additional information, plan strategy with the legislators who are on our side, and be more effective as your anti-NAIS lobbyist.
You can reach your legislators by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 or toll-free 877-851-6437; or go to www.congress.org to find out who your Representatives and Senators are.
You can use these same strategies for almost any issue you care about. Our system of government relies on an informed citizenry to communicate with the elected representatives. It’s up to each of us to make that education and communication happen.
We Will Not Comply: Two NAIS Resistors Lead the Way
by Deborah Stockton
Michigan cattleman Greg Niewendorp and Pennsylvania dairy farmer Mark Nolt have taken courageous leadership positions by refusing to comply with state attempts at invasive incursions into their farming practices. In February of this year, Niewendorp sent a letter to the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) explaining in detail why he would not participate in their dangerous experimental TB herd-testing and eradication program. Several months ago Nolt chose to not renew his raw milk selling permit with the state of Pennsylvania, even as he continued to sell milk and milk products directly from his farm to his customers. With these actions, both farmers refused to participate in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
Behind both of these state programs (herd eradication and milk permitting) lurks the spectre of NAIS, with its requirement of “premises registration” first on its list of demands. A close look at the word “premises” shows that the first definition, in reference to real estate, is: “The part of a deed or lease that states the parties involved, the property in conveyance, and other pertinent facts.” One must wonder at the choice of the word “premises” over “property” or other term where ownership is unambiguous. By complying with “premises” registration, one implicitly acknowledges a property in conveyance. When discussing NAIS, the question of property ownership is central, and not only of the land itself, but also of the animals who live on that land. NAIS shifts the role of the farmer as animal owner, to that of keeper, similar to the way that industrial chicken house “farmers” are not owners, but managers. After all, the government refers to the identification number as “livestock premises ID.” However, Niewendorp says, “We have discovered remedies for removing our land and our livestock from premises ID. We are investigating several avenues for removing this oppression from our livestock and our land.”
Greg Niewendorp In Michigan
Following is a brief summary of Niewendorp’s situation to date. When Niewendorp submitted his letter to the MDA in February, they immediately placed his farm in quarantine. In May, the MDA referred to his situation as a stalemate. All was quiet until August 21st, when an attempt was made to break the stalemate. A regulation agent of the MDA along with two Michigan state policemen as law enforcement agents came illegally onto Niewendorp’s property, past his detailed “No Trespassing” sign. A state vet was lying in wait around the corner down the road. Their goal was to coerce Niewendorp to test his herd. After escorting them to the property line, Niewendorp spoke with them for several minutes, conversing about respect with regard to personal and professional conduct. Once they left, Niewendorp contacted the local sheriff, who should have been informed and who is the proper and legitimate authority on local enforcement issues, and related to him the morning’s events. Seven days later, in a four-way phone conversation with the TB-testing program public relations spokersperson Bridget Patrick, Michigan state vet Stephen Halstead, and Pat Lockard, liaison to the Governor’s office, Niewendorp informed them that his constitutional rights were violated and that he chose to face his accuser in the open.
Later in a conversation at the local feed store with a fellow cattleman, Niewendorp learned that his case might have been “turned over to the USDA and the Federal Marshals.” I investigated and called the MDA to speak to the vet who allegedly said this, but was told he had been advised not to speak to me. The local sheriff, after hearing Niewendorp’s concerns about possible federal enforcement action, sent a letter to a number of government agencies, including the MDA, Michigan State Police, the USDA, FBI, and the Federal Marshal service, informing them that any enforcement action involving entrance onto Niewendorp’s property would have to be through him, as the local enforcement agent of the law.
Niewendorp is now openly criticizing the Michigan Animal Industry Act of 1988, the so-called basis for the TB eradication program and for NAIS and livestock premises ID. (Farm Bureau has worked very closely with the MDA, as they do in every other state, to implement this NAIS and premises ID program).
Niewendorp said, “Isn’t it interesting that the Animal Industry Act is the vehicle through which this is being accomplished, as it has been on the books for last 18 years and nobody has ever previously challenged it. Having one’s rights violated can give a person the right to criticize because we feel we have something better to offer. It is also my intent to show that the statement that milk is a carrier of TB is a bald-faced lie. The pasteurization laws from the 1930s have to be overturned to allow the sale of Real Milk through private contract.”
Mark Nolt In Pennsylvania
Mark Nolt’s actions are based on the position that the private contract sale of his raw milk and raw milk products to his close circle of customers is a private matter between him and the individual to whom he is selling.
Nolt has also experienced trespass and violation of his constitutional rights. Some months after Nolt chose not to renew his permit, his property was raided by federal and state agents who confiscated $25,000 worth of milk, milk products and dairy equipment. Following the raid, on August 10, a group of Mark’s customers and supporters organized a protest rally to draw attention to his situation. The raid garnered media attention, including a detailed and not unsympathetic editorial in the weekly Lancaster Farming, “the leading Northeast and Mid-Atlantic farm newspaper.” Following is Mark Nolt’s reply to the editorial:
“The article quoted Bill Chirdon, Director of Food Safety at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) saying ‘selling raw milk requires a big commitment and sanitation is so important.’ I agree. As a private farmer providing food for the people who put our farm-raised food on their table, I am very aware of the importance of food safety. Our customers are also very concerned about the nutritional quality, the freshness and purity of their food.
“Our food is not sold in public stores or through public distributors.
“Is it against the law to sell farm-raised food directly to the people who eat that food?
“In my research I found no lawful requirement for me to obtain a permit from the PDA. I found many laws that protect my liberty in both the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution. These liberties and rights were recognized as divine God-given rights having been established at the time of Creation. Only knowingly and willingly can we waive the use of these rights (such as by taking a permit, license or by contract). When I revoked my last permit with the PDA, I inquired whether they were aware of any waiver or document that still bound me to their public regulations. They have tacitly confirmed that there is no waiver of my rights.
“The August 25 article also quotes doctors with the Department of Health stating that Salmonella poisoning was linked to raw milk from a York County farmer who has had his raw milk permit revoked by the PDA. They have accused him of having caused 29 cases of Salmonella poisoning. [But as with] our farm, they have seen absolutely no evidence to verify that anyone has become sick from their milk. (Our farm has been accused by the Health Department of causing five cases of foodborne illness with no evidence to verify the accusation). I am aware of many other raw milk-permitted Pennsylvania farmers who have been accused of having pathogenic bacteria in their milk who haven’t caused any illnesses. The York County farm has been shut down for nearly six months. What is the real cost of a permit?? My desire is that the truth can be known.
“Even though my rights are clearly spelled out and protected by the constitutions, it is not my intention to be stubborn, just to preserve these rights to earn a livelihood and do the work of my choice. Rather than be forced to take a permit, I could give up dairying. I could seek another avenue to support my family. But neither is it my desire to cheat my neighbors, my community, nor my fellow farmers.
“Many people yearn to make a living on a small farm. Many folks desire healthy food obtained directly from the farmer. Many people come to us for a food recommended to them by their doctors or by a doctor’s prescription. It behooves us all to fill this responsibility. It is for this cause that I stand. I encourage your readers to support this cause as well.”
Nolt has also written a letter to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory, a division of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), noting that the constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the right to enter into private contractual agreements, supersedes any regulations requiring him to obtain a permit (or, by inference, participate in NAIS). Since the Bureau, in demanding compliance with dairy regulations, has offered in writing to “answer your questions,” Nolt justifiably demands that the Secretary of Agriculture and other PDA officials acknowledge within ten working days whether or not they must uphold the constitutions of the state of Pennsylvania and the United States. If no reply is received within ten days, “my statements in this letter shall be considered to have been admitted and confirmed by you and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to be true in law.”
Supporters of Nolt have submitted a “Petition for Redress of Grievances” to the Secretary of Agriculture, demanding that Pennsylvania officials support, obey and defend the constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States, stop all persecution of Nolt, cease interference in his business of selling raw milk and raw milk products, supply notarized proof of the illness his dairy products are accused of causing, and compensate him for the seizure of his property during the raid.
Boundaries Of Freedom
Mark Nolt’s and Greg Niewendorp’s property perimeters are the boundaries of freedom for all of us. They are leading the way to the life we all want. Let us unite our will with theirs, together working for what we believe, for the desire of our hearts.
About the author of this sidebar: Deborah Stockton is the Editor of VICFA Voice, the monthly newsletter of the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, and writes from Charlottesville, VA. Website: www.VICFA.net; email: editor (at) vicfa.net.
- Paul Jackson, TB-free status delayed after state fails USDA review, Michigan Farm News, June 15, 2007; www.michiganfarmbureau.com/farmnews/transform.php?xml=20070615/cover.xml).
- The report is posted at www.gao.gov/new.items/d07592.pdf.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2007.