Update on NAIS. . . And What You Can Do to Protect Your Rights
Most WAPF members are already familiar with the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS. 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 government. 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.
As mentioned in the last issue of Wise Traditions, the Senate Agriculture Committee began its consideration of the Farm Bill in September. Senator Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Committee, inserted a provision into the proposed Farm Bill that would amend the Animal Health Protection Act to (1) insert a definition of NAIS; and (2) provide various exceptions from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for information collected under NAIS. This provision is Section 10305 of the Livestock Title. This provision is justified as a way of alleviating expressed concerns that producers and organizations have about the privacy of their information under NAIS.
But Section 10305 will not truly address the privacy problems created by NAIS. The government has the ability to exempt information from FOIA. Such an exemption, however, addresses only one aspect of privacy. What about privacy from the government? Many individuals do not wish the government to know everything they own and everything they do.
And what about accidental release of the information or hackers? The headlines in even the mainstream press reflect the fact that the government has done a very poor job, at best, of protecting people’s information once it is collected in a database. And what about intentional misuse of the information for competitive advantage? The NAIS databases are supposed to be privatized, which will put them under the control of private companies who could sell that information or use it to manipulate the marketplace. Even if there are statutory provisions outlawing such misuse of the information, it would be all-but-impossible for ordinary people to prove their case in court. And any court case would only occur after the damage is done. The bottom line is that, if people’s data are collected in the NAIS databases, they have lost their privacy and security, no matter what Congress writes in the statute.
More broadly, the inclusion of Section 10305 represents a tacit approval of NAIS, and this is a very serious problem. NAIS is a fundamentally flawed program. USDA claims that NAIS is an animal health measure, yet there is no scientific basis for such claims. It is an expensive, intrusive program that will simply enrich the technology companies and meat packers at the expense of small farmers, animal owners and consumers. Creating a FOIA exemption under NAIS is a bit like fixing a broken light fixture in a house that has a cracked foundation and termites in the wall. The whole program is broken, and Section 10305 would not change that fact.
At the time this article goes to press, Senators are negotiating which Farm Bill amendments will be allowed a hearing. There is a chance that the Farm Bill will be voted on in December, and there is a chance it won’t be voted on until 2008! Keep an eye on your email for action alerts, or ask a friend who has email to keep you informed as events develop.
What You Can Do To Protect Your Rights and Food Supply
WAPF and the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) have been working with concerned people across the country to help educate the public and lobby to stop NAIS. Our ability to make change depends on people like you taking action at every level, from the local community to national politics. Below are suggestions of what you can do. No one person can do all of it. The important thing is to do something!
The first steps are activism at the local level:
- Educate your friends and neighbors. You can download materials from the FARFA website, www.farmandranchfreedom.org: flyers, brochures, and a Top 10 Myths handout. Put copies out at your local farmers market, feed store, food co-op, cow share, etc.
- Collect petition signatures. You can download a petition from our website. Putting a petition out on the counter of a feed store or other business is a great way to generate discussion about NAIS.
- Ask your city or county to adopt a resolution opposing NAIS. Our website has a sample resolution and a document explaining how to approach your commissioners and providing support for every statement in the resolution.
- Ask your farming or breed organization what their position is on the NAIS. If they have not taken a position, ask them to adopt a resolution opposing it. And, if they won’t listen, change to a new organization! Why should your money go to a group that is not representing your interests?
Ultimately, we need legislation at both the state and national levels to stop NAIS.
Here are things you can do to help with this campaign:
- Find out what is happening in your state. The Liberty Ark Coalition, www.libertyark.net, can help connect you with others in your state. You can sign up as a supporter of Liberty Ark for free to show your opposition to the NAIS.
- Contact your state and federal representatives and senators. The Liberty Ark Coalition and FARFA websites have several sample letters you can use. Once you have written, follow up with a phone call and ask to meet with the legislator in person. Don’t turn down a meeting with a staffer, since they often have significant input.
- At the meeting, be concise and accurate. Our strength comes from providing complete and accurate information. FARFA and Liberty Ark can help you prepare for the meeting, including providing materials to give to the legislator or staffer as follow-up.
- Be responsive to what the legislator or staffer says. Engage them in a dialogue and address their concerns. Above all, be courteous.
- Be prepared to offer solutions. Provide examples of alternatives to the NAIS that show why we don’t need it for animal health, bioterrorism protection, or the export market.
- Provide positive action items, such as what sort of legislation you would like to see. Fourteen states introduced bills last year to stop or limit NAIS. Arizona has passed a law to stop NAIS from becoming mandatory. We can provide examples of bills that take a variety of approaches and work with the legislator to develop something suitable for your state.
- Follow up with a thank-you for their time, and a request that they take a position on the issue if they have not done so already.
- Tell them that you are a member of WAPF and/or of FARFA. Let us know who you talked with, by contacting Judith (at) FarmAndRanchFreedom. org. This will enable us to lobby more effectively as organizations, as well.
Protecting our right to farm and our access to nutrient-dense foods requires everyone’s help. Please dedicate some time to this important cause!
Dr. John Wiemers, a senior vet with the USDA, has a disturbing perspective on what pastured poultry farmers, such as myself, will have to do under NAIS.
At one conference, I asked Dr. Wiemers how we were expected to tag chickens.
His first response was, “leg bands.” Let’s think about that … the USDA wants a chicken tagged with a leg band that has a legible 15-digit number on it. I explained to him that we raise chickens, not ostriches, and their legs don’t get that big!
His second response was, “wing tags.” I asked, “You mean to glue on tags that fall off after a couple of weeks, so we’d be re-tagging every chicken constantly?”
He responded by saying we should use “T-tags,” and went on to explain how these work. We would pierce the necks of day-old chicks, run a thread through them, and have a tag attached to the thread, much like a sales tag on a piece of clothing. Are you horrified yet? I was!
These T-tags would create a new route of infection, stress the baby birds, and cause many deaths as the birds pecked at each other’s tags. It’s an idea that could only be developed by someone whose only experience is with de-beaked birds in cages! When I pointed out these problems, Dr. Wiemers responded that we could qualify for a “group identification number” instead. Yet these numbers are only available if the animals are managed together from birth to death, and not commingled with other animals.
When I pointed out that we don’t manage our animals that way, he responded that we should change our management. In other words, we should become a confinement operation, since they are the only ones that manage their animals in such an artificially isolated way.
Welcome to the USDA’s latest variation on “Get big or get out.”
Competition Provisions in the Farm Bill
Except for the NAIS provision, the Livestock Title of the Farm Bill proposed by the Senate Agriculture Committee is generally very good for livestock farmers. The bill includes a ban on packer feeding to prevent large meat packers from manipulating the market by owning their own livestock. The bill also includes a strong voluntary arbitration provision and other fairness protections:
- Giving the producer at least three days to review or cancel a contract with a meat packer;
- Requiring 90-day notice for contract termination when the producer has made a capital investment of $100,000 in facilities or equipment in reliance with the contract;
- Making it unlawful for companies to not bargain in good faith or to discriminate against or coerce farmers who form or join producer associations;
- Protecting a farmer’s right to discuss the contract with business associates, neighbors and other producers;
- Directing the Secretary to adopt rules defining “undue preference” to prohibit any pricing preference or advantage based on volume of business unless they reflect actual and verifiably lower prices.
These provisions do not directly apply to farmers who sell directly to consumers. Yet they still affect us because we are part of the larger society in this country. The more power and control the big companies such as Tyson and Smithfield have, the worse it is for everyone. These provisions are intended to reduce their control and help mainstream small farmers compete instead of going out of business. Whatever our differences with the mainstream farmers, we share the common bond of raising food and being responsible for the land and animals. Having more small farmers, and less control by corporate agri-business, is good for us all.
Moreover, the more small farmers there are, the more we can rebuild the critical infrastructure for farming, such as slaughterhouses. The Livestock Title, as passed out of committee, also included a provision allowing the interstate shipment of meat inspected in certain small state-inspected facilities. This would allow farmers, especially those located near state borders, to expand their markets without needing a federally inspected facility.
There will probably be amendments to strike some of these wins offered on the Senate Floor, and potentially amendments to try to get yet more positive provisions. As with the NAIS issue, stay tuned!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2007.
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