Federal and State Battles over the National Animal Identification System
Informed farmers and consumers have been fighting the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS, for several years now. For newcomers, this is an agribusiness-government plan to require every person who owns any livestock animal to register their property with the state and federal governments. The NAIS would cover anyone who owns even one chicken, horse, cow, sheep, goat, pig, turkey, guinea, elk, deer, bison, or other livestock or poultry. The next phases of NAIS call for tagging each animal with a 15- digit identification number and reporting their movements to a database within 24 hours. The burdens, in both time and money, would drive many grass-based farmers out of business, and consumers would lose much of their access to nutrient-dense animal foods.
The USDA released its original plan for NAIS in May 2005, sparking a grassroots outcry that has spread across the country. USDA’s more recent documents call for the program to be implemented by the states, subject to the federal guidelines and driven by federal funding. So the fight to stop NAIS requires action at both the federal and state levels.
Federal Funding for NAIS
The good news is that we made significant progress in stopping federal funding for NAIS. For the last three years, Congress has provided $33 million of funding for NAIS each year. The USDA requested that same amount of funding this year. But the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December 2007 contained only $9.75 million in funding for NAIS. This is less than a third of the funding USDA wanted!
Behind the celebration, however, there is cause for concern. Some members of Congress supported the reduced funding because they feel USDA has not been aggressive enough in implementing NAIS. Many of the members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee (which decides funding issues) have been led to believe that NAIS is a food safety measure, and so they are prepared to increase funding if USDA shows greater success in using the funds.
During meetings with the key staff to these members of Congress, I have explained why NAIS is not a food safety measure. In reality, NAIS will actually reduce food safety by favoring confinement operations, reducing organic and grass-based operations, and leading to more consolidation of the food supply. Unfortunately, during a February, 2008 hearing, several members of the subcommittee indicated that they still think NAIS should be made mandatory. It is critical that they hear from the public!
The Farm Bill
The Farm Bill is a massive bill passed every five years, which provides for everything from Food Stamps to crop subsidies to conservation programs to energy policy. The 2007 Farm Bill involved NAIS, as well. As discussed in previous issues of Wise Traditions, the House Agriculture Committee proposed implementing mandatory animal identification as part of Country of Origin Labeling, but the outcry from FARFA and other farming and consumer organizations kept that provision out. Unfortunately, the Senate proved to be a more difficult forum for us. The Senate version of the Farm Bill included Section 10305, which would require the USDA to adopt regulations
consistent with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “regarding the disclosure of information submitted by farmers and ranchers who participate in” NAIS. The regulations “should address the protection of trade secrets and other proprietary and/or confidential business information that farmers and ranchers disclose in the course of participation in” NAIS.
People who oppose NAIS have varying views on the issue of the Freedom of Information Act. Many animal owners have expressed concern that, if NAIS were to happen, they do not want animal rights groups or competitors to be able to obtain detailed information on their farms through FOIA. Other people have pointed out that the public should have the right to get information about the activities of large, industrial agriculture facilities. There is merit in both arguments, but they both miss a critical point: this information should not be collected by the government in the first place. Addressing the confidentiality of information collected under NAIS is like fixing a broken light fixture in a home that has a cracked foundation and termites in the wall. The real problem with both versions of Section 10305 is that they imply approval of what USDA has been doing and give a green light to continuing NAIS. That is a step in the wrong direction.
As this issue of Wise Traditions goes to print, the conference committee for the Farm Bill is expected to be named any day. Most likely, by the time you read this article, the decision on whether to keep Section 10305 in the Farm Bill or not will already have been made. Watch for alerts from the Weston A Price Foundation or go to www.FarmAndRanchFreedom.org to stay informed on what is happening in between issues of Wise Traditions.
USDA Business Plan
On December 19, 2007, the USDA finally published the Business Plan that it has been promising since August. While USDA continues to assert that NAIS is “voluntary at the federal level,” the loopholes are becoming more and more obvious. USDA now states: “NAIS provides the opportunity for producers that are not part of a disease program to freely participate in national animal health safeguarding efforts” (Business Plan, preface i). The logical corollary of this statement is that NAIS is rapidly becoming involuntary for anyone who is part of a disease program. As detailed in multiple places in the Business Plan, USDA intends to use existing disease control programs—including tuberculosis, brucellosis, scrapie and equine infectious anemia testing—to impose NAIS on animal owners across the country.
USDA also plans to use breed registries and industry associations to implement NAIS. Contact your breed registry to determine whether or not it intends to be a tool for implementing NAIS and let us know their response! We are compiling the responses on our website.
In an attempt to reduce opposition, the Business Plan refers to a “critical mass” of 70 percent. While at first glance this may seem to be a sign that USDA is backing away from its unfounded claims that every single animal owner should be part of NAIS, a closer reading shows otherwise. The 70 percent critical mass is simply a way to gauge “the progress being made towards obtaining the participation levels necessary to achieve the optimum traceability goal” (Business Plan, p. 11). Based on the USDA’s other documents and statement, the optimum traceability goal remains 100 percent participation.
The USDA continues to ignore the lowcost, practical alternatives for tracing animals, and acts as though a huge federal program is the only solution. For example, USDA considers it a problem that “less than half of adult cattle can be associated with any USDA official identification system” (Business Plan, p. 18). Where is the data or analysis showing the real-world outcome? Why does identification of animals have to be through an official USDA program in order to address disease? Where are the studies showing that we need an official federal program to successfully address disease? Experience teaches us otherwise, yet USDA is unwilling to listen or learn. We must continue to educate Congress about the fundamental fl aws with NAIS and the USDA’s attitude towards agriculture.
In 2007, fourteen states proposed bills to stop or limit NAIS. Only one bill succeeded: Arizona reversed the law it had put into place in 2006 and barred a mandatory program. While thirteen failed bills may sound discouraging, the grassroots movement actually made incredible strides in 2007. And now, in 2008, more states are introducing anti-NAIS bills! There are some success stories, most notably Nebraska’s adoption of a law limiting NAIS to a voluntary program only. And even where bills have failed, they are gaining more support than they did in 2007, showing the growing strength of the grassroots movement.
The exact kind of bill that’s introduced varies from state to state. That’s because each state is starting from a different position. In some states, pro-NAIS forces pushed through legislation to create a mandatory NAIS before most people were even aware of the issue. In those states, people face the prospect of their state agency implementing a mandatory program whenever it feels like it!
In other states, the pro-NAIS forces weren’t as organized, there is no law authorizing NAIS, and therefore the grassroots community has a little more breathing room. Each state also differs in the strength of its organic and local foods movement, as well as the strength of the pro-NAIS forces (the feedlots and meat packers, the technology companies and the industrial agriculture associations). Depending on the existing laws and the strength of the pro-NAIS forces, the citizens of each state have to make a decision about the best strategy for their state at a specific point in time. We support everyone’s efforts to stop NAIS and protect our food supply.
To borrow a comment from a Texas activist: “I understand the argument about the camel’s nose under the tent. But with NAIS, the camel has already moved into the tent and is re-arranging the furniture. Whatever we can do to push him back out is good.” The big industry and government players have spent 20 years developing and implementing NAIS, and it is going to take a long, hard fight to push them back. Each bill, each battle, sets the stage for the next one.
You can find out more information on each state by going to http://farmandranchfreedom.org/content/stateupdates.
Stopping NAIS is a long-term battle, and winning it will require the efforts of both consumers and farmers all over the country. The Weston A. Price Foundation sends out action alerts at many of the critical moments, and it’s important that everyone take action in response! If you are willing and able to devote a little more time to help in the fight, there are numerous things you can do to:
- put out educational materials at your local farmers’ market, feed store, or riding stable;
- collect petition signatures;
- have a face-to-face meeting with your state legislators, and ask them to sponsor a bill to stop NAIS;
- organize a public meeting to educate your community.
You don’t need to do all of these things. What’s important is to do something! You can find materials to help with all of these efforts at www.farmandranchfreedom.org.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2008.