Ever since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its plans for a National Animal ID System (NAIS), increasing numbers of farmers, ranchers, pet owners, and consumers across the country have voiced their opposition. The USDA has announced that NAIS is voluntary at the federal level, but is continuing to fund state programs. A few states are moving ahead aggressively with implementing NAIS, while others are considering bills to stop it. Overall, the last few months have seen many developments on the federal and state level.
Involuntary Registrations and Opting Out of the Federal Database
A few states have made NAIS mandatory, such as Wisconsin and Indiana. Other states have used a variety of methods to increase participation in so-called voluntary programs of NAIS. Some states have taken information from existing programs, such as scrapie or tuberculosis, and simply enrolled people into the NAIS database. Other states, such as Idaho, have used their brand registries. Some people have filled out the form for NAIS registration thinking that it is something else, such as Country of Origin Labeling. And yet other people have registered after being told that they have to in order to be in 4-H, or sell at a local sales barn, or go to shows, or ____ (fill in the blank).
As word spread about these involuntary and coercive tactics, some people tried to get out of the NAIS database. They were told by the state and federal officials that the premises could be labeled as “inactive”, but there was no way to actually remove their information from the database. Then, in January, the USDA announced an “opt out” procedure for people whose premises have been registered in the NAIS. According to a USDA spokesman, anyone wishing to be removed from the database should write a formal request to their state’s NAIS coordinator, who would confirm the validity of the request, and advance the request to USDA. This procedure has still not been formalized in writing. State NAIS coordinators can be located at this website: http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/contact_us/directories.shtml
The Liberty Ark Coalition is working with individuals who are seeking opt-outs, to monitor the process and let the public know whether or not the USDA is fulfilling its promise. If you would like a sample letter for opting out, please email noah (at) libertyark.net. And once you ask to be removed from the database, please let Liberty Ark know the result. We need to hold the USDA accountable.
NAIS for Country of Origin Labeling?
In March, Congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota announced that he intends to combine mandatory NAIS and Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). As Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, Congressman Peterson is in a critical position. In May, the subcommittee included a provision in the draft 2007 Farm Bill that would allow the USDA to use mandatory animal identification to implement COOL, changing the current prohibition on linking the two programs.
For years, both producers and consumers have pushed for the implementation of COOL, to require that all agricultural products sold in the U.S. are labeled as to what country they originated in. That way, the consumer can tell if the products were grown and processed under the U.S. environmental and safety laws, or if they were grown and processed in a foreign country with lower standards (particularly Certified Organic). COOL would also allow American consumers to decide if they want to support American farmers and ranchers under the “Buy American” concept, or if they want to support global corporate agricultural giants who import food from across the world.
Combining COOL with NAIS is simply unnecessary. NAIS would require anyone who owns even one chicken, horse, goat, sheep, cow, pig, elk, deer, or other livestock animal or poultry to register their property with the federal and state governments, individually identify each animal with a unique 15-digit number (and, for many animals, use electronic identification), and report movements to a database within 24 hour. NAIS would end when the animal is slaughtered. In contrast, COOL would require identifying the animal with its country of origin, recording if it ever crosses an international barrier, and then tracking the animals after slaughter in order to allow labeling of the meat. COOL could be accomplished by simply branding each animal with a country brand at the first sale and at border crossings, and then segregating the animals at slaughter and afterwards. (Many people and organizations have undoubtedly developed other simple, low-cost alternatives for implementing COOL.) There is almost no overlap between the two programs, and NAIS would require far more money, time, and intrusion into people’s lives than implementation of COOL.
Moreover, the effects of the programs are fundamentally at odds with each other. COOL is about providing information so that consumers can choose whether to buy domestic or foreign products and, as a hoped-for result, providing American farmers and ranchers with economic rewards for raising food in this country. In contrast, NAIS was designed by large, corporate agriculture to improve the export market. The goal of these companies is to continue importing cheap, foreign food to sell to Americans, while exporting high-quality American products to Asia and Europe where it demands a higher premium. Rather than sharing the profits with the farmers through premiums, the companies want the government to mandate the program so that the farmers bear the costs and the companies reap the rewards.
NAIS will drive many American farmers and ranchers out of business and undermine fundamental American rights and values. The right to know where our food comes from will be an empty right if it is purchased at the price of NAIS. If NAIS is implemented, consumers would be fooled into believing that they were supporting American farmers and ranchers through the “Made in the USA” label. Yet more and more of the food labeled that way would be raised by international corporations that are willing and able to comply with NAIS. With independent producers forced out of business by NAIS, the companies would have a free hand to push for lower and lower standards. This is not the reason that so many consumers and farmers have fought for COOL! We must continue to fight for a true COOL—one that supports American agriculture—without the burdens and intrusion of NAIS.
Please contact both the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture and tell them that you do not want NAIS in the Farm Bill, and you do not want it linked to COOL. Contact information is on the sidebar to this article, page 73, and you can find sample letters in the Take Action page on www.farmandranchfreedom.org.
What’s Happening in the States
Since the USDA has left implementation of the NAIS to the states, we have seen a patchwork of developments. With most of the state legislatures in session, the issue has really heated up! Just in the few months since the last update, a great deal has happened in several states. Below is a summary of what’s happened as of May 25.
ARKANSAS: HB 1761, the Freedom to Farm Act, would have barred state and local governments from requiring premises registration, electronic identification, licensing and permits, or reports of sales, “unless a law or rule to the contrary was in effect before January 1, 2007.” The bill was referred to Committee, and two unsuccessful attempts were made to approve it.
ARIZONA: Arizona was the first state to adopt a law barring a mandatory NAIS! Last session, before the public or most of the legislators knew what NAIS was, the Legislature adopted a law that allowed the State Department of Agriculture to adopt a mandatory NAIS. This year, Senator Johnson introduced SB 1428, to repeal that law and bar NAIS completely. Due to pressure from the industry agriculture groups, the bill was amended to bar only a mandatory program. It passed the Senate and the House, and was signed by the Governor on May 1. Senator Johnson has invited Arizona residents to tell her about their experiences with the Agriculture Department, and she will work on additional protections that are needed next session to stop any abuses of the voluntary program.
INDIANA: SB 486, as originally filed and approved by the Senate Committee, would have barred NAIS completely. It was amended on the floor of the Senate to bar only the mandatory animal identification and tracking phases of NAIS, but still allow mandatory premises registration. The amended bill was passed by the full Senate, but then died in the House Committee on Technology, Research and Development.
KENTUCKY: While the Kentucky Department of Agriculture withdrew the proposed regulations (discussed in the last issue), it has informally set forth very similar proposed regulations. The new proposals would still require a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection almost every time an animal was taken off the owners’ property.
LOUISIANA: Senator Cain introduced SB 246, the Livestock Farm Freedom Act. SB 246 would bar any government-run NAIS in Louisiana, and impose limitations on private programs so that people are not coerced into them. The Senate Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee held a hearing on May 22, at which Karin Bergener (Steering Committee member, Liberty Ark Coalition) and several Louisiana citizens testified in favor of the bill. The Committee left the bill pending.
MASSACHUSETTS: The two bills discussed in last issue’s update now have bill numbers: HB 757 and SB 475. HB 757 forbids the MDAR from accepting federal funds for NAIS in 2007, requires MDAR to stop uploading data to the federal database, and seeks removal for people who were involuntarily enrolled. SB 475 includes all of those provisions and adds important protections. SB 475 precludes MDAR from using other existing programs, such as scrapie, as a means to implement NAIS. SB 475 also prohibits any person, whether private or governmental, from discriminating against people who do not participate in NAIS or programs like it. This means that anyone who chooses not to be part of the program will be able to buy feed, sell at auction, use slaughterhouses, go to shows and fairs, and everything else we do now, without any pressure to sign up for NAIS. Both bills have been assigned to the Joint Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and the Environment, and a hearing will be held on July 9.
MICHIGAN: Michigan has not adopted regulations under NAIS, but has effectively made the program mandatory through “policy changes” to its existing tuberculosis program. Last year, the Michigan Department of Agriculture took people’s information from the tuberculosis database and simply placed them into the NAIS database, without prior notice or requesting consent. And as of March 1, if a person wants to move a cow anywhere in the state, that animal must be tagged with a Radio Frequency Identification Device that is NAIS-compliant – and which can only be bought if one has a premises registration number. So without any new laws or regulations, Michigan has effectively implemented the first two phases of NAIS for cattle. Some farmers have refused to comply, and efforts are continuing to get the Governor or Legislature to stop the program.
MISSOURI: Both the Missouri House and the Senate passed bills that would have barred any government-run NAIS. Because the bills differed, the issue went to a conference committee, and SB 156 emerged as a compromise. The bill would have allowed the state agency to have a voluntary program for marketing purposes, as well as allow the Governor to waive all or part of the law if it interfered with marketing of Missouri livestock. Despite these concessions, the leadership of the House did not allow a vote on SB 156 and the bill died.
OKLAHOMA: HB 1842 initially provided an exemption for premises that sold less than $10,000 in agricultural products. A committee substitute version would absolutely have barred any government NAIS program. The Agriculture Committee did not hold a hearing on the bill.
SOUTH DAKOTA: No change since the previous update. South Dakota already has legislation that authorizes that State vet to implement NAIS on a mandatory basis. A bill was introduced to limit the program to a voluntary program only. At the committee hearing, several legislators who had sponsored the bill changed their position and ultimately voted against it, so the bill died in committee
TENNESSEE: Four bills have been introduced to stop NAIS, with companion bills in both the House and Senate: HB764/SB655, HB976/SB1274, HB978/SB1273, and HB978/SB1272. These bills take a variety of approaches, based on what other states have been introducing. Two other bills have been introduced that would limit NAIS to a voluntary program, but without any protections against coercion: HB899/SB1202 and HB1855/SB1996. In March and April, the House Committee heard testimony from both pro-NAIS and anti-NAIS representatives. HB 976 and SB 1274 have been approved by the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture, but with amendments to bar only a mandatory program. The amendment also included some loopholes for federal and interstate agreements. Efforts are being made to take out the worst of the loopholes on the floor.
TEXAS: Texas currently has a law that allows the state agency to implement NAIS on a mandatory basis at any time. HB 461 would have removed the agency’s authority to make NAIS mandatory and the civil and criminal penalties, as well as provided protections against misleading or coercive tactics being used to sing people up. HB 461 was approved by the Texas House by a vote of 85-57, and went through the Senate Subcommittee and Committee on Natural Resources. A majority of Senators were prepared to vote yes on HB 461, but the Lieutenant Governor did not allow the bill to go to a vote.
VIRGINIA: No change since the previous update. HB 1990 in Virginia initially consisted of just one sentence, barring the state agency from “participat[ing] in or provid[ing] any assistance to the establishment of the National Animal Identification System or any substantially similar program.” After a January hearing, the subcommittee agreed to amend the bill to allow for a voluntary program and to allow the agency to remain involved in the USDA discussions on the program. The bill died when the full Agriculture committee voted on it.
WASHINGTON: HB 1151, as initially introduced, would have barred any government NAIS in Washington. A committee substitute version replaced all of the original language with provisions for a Livestock Identification Advisory Committee to study the issue for a year, and this version was approved by the House. It died in the Senate.
WISCONSIN: The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture adopted regulations making premises registration mandatory back in 2005. However, until now, there have been no reports of enforcement actions. But in March, dairy farmers received letters informing them that they had to register in the NAIS database by May 1, or they would lose their license to do business. A widespread outcry resulted in the Agriculture Department backing down from its enforcement threats.
The approaches to both implementing and fighting NAIS differ based on the political situation in each state. While several anti-NAIS bills have failed or been stalled in the recent months, we have still made important progress. Just one year ago, very few legislators had even heard of NAIS. Now, thanks to the grassroots movement, it has become a significant issue for debate in many states. This is going to be a long and difficult fight. For more information about NAIS and what you can do to help stop it, go to www.farmandranchfreedom.org or www.libertyark.net, or call (866) 687-6452.
How to Help
Contact your Congressman and Senators and tell them that you oppose NAIS and that it should not be included in the Farm Bill or linked to Country of Origin Labeling. To find out who your U.S. Representative and Senators are, go to www.congress.org/congressorg/home/ and enter your zip code in the box on the left-hand side. Please also call or write the chair and ranking minority members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees. Address it to “Chairman” or “Minority Leader” and send to the addresses below. You can find sample letters and talking points on the Take Action page at www.farmandranchfreedom.org, or call (866) 687-6452 for more information.
House Agriculture Committee (majority)
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2171
Fax: (202) 225-0917
Email: agriculture (at) mail.house.gov
House Agriculture Committee (minority)
Committee on Agriculture
1305 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-0317
Senate Agriculture Committee
(majority and minority – please specify in envelope address)
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry
Room SR-328A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC. 20510-6000
Phone: (202) 224-2035
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2007.