WESTON A. PRICE FOUNDATION
April 10, 2006
WAPF Member and Chapter Leader, Judith McGeary (Austin, TX) has created a new non-profit organization, The Farm and Ranch Alliance, to lobby for independent farmers and ranchers on NAIS and other such intrusive programs (part 1 below). She also provides an up-to-date look at NAIS, based on a press conference USDA Secretary Mike Johanns held on Thursday, April 6 (see part 2 below). The good news is that USDA will not propose regulations in July 2006 for NAIS and the USDA extended the timelines for the program. The bad news is that the USDA has simply decentralized the system without significantly changing the requirements
1. The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance: Leading the Fight Against NAIS
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA), a newly-created nonprofit organization, will lobby on behalf of independent farmers and ranchers. For too long, legislators and agency bureaucrats have heard only from large, corporate producers. Meanwhile, independent producers have been largely unrepresented.
This lack of representation has culminated in the current problem: the creation and pending implementation of a national animal identification system (“NAIS”). NAIS poses a serious threat to all farmers, ranchers, livestock owners, and companion-animal owners, whether they are organic or conventional, small or large, involved with animals for business or for pleasure. Across the country, every person with even one horse, cow, chicken, pig, goat, sheep, exotic animal or virtually any other livestock animal on their premises, will be required to register their homes and property into a database and subject their property and animals to government surveillance.
Each animal would be individually identified, physically tagged (in many cases with radio frequency tags or microchips), and every “event” in the animal’s life (including birth, movement to and from premises, and death) reported to the government or to a private industry database that the government has the power to access. The only exception from individual identification and tracking is that large industrial agricultural producers will be able to use just one group number for an entire confinement house of poultry or swine. Small producers, who do not manage their animals in isolated groups, will not qualify for this convenience.
NAIS does not distinguish between large corporate factory farms and the smallest family producer, hobby farmer, or the grandmother with a few laying hens. Many families may be made criminals due to their religious convictions and concerns over privacy and property rights. Small and medium-size farmers and ranchers will be driven out of business, and the consolidation of our food supply into the hands of a few large, multinational corporations will continue. NAIS must be stopped, and FARFA will lead the fight, first in Texas and then at the national level.
Beyond the immediate problem of NAIS, FARFA will continue to serve as the voice of non-corporate agriculture. The issues are many and varied: land use regulations, land valuation issues, condemnation of land for “public purposes,” protection of Constitutional rights and liberties, funding for research, regulation of marketing, and many others. Priorities will be based both on threats (such as NAIS) and on recognizing, and even creating, opportunities for independent ranchers and farmers, whose work guarantees America’s food supply.
Visit FARFA’s website at http://www.farmandranchfreedom.org/.
For more information concerning NAIS or FARFA, contact Judith McGeary at jmcgeary (at) att.net or (512) 243-2706.
2. Preliminary Analysis of USDA’s April 6, 2006 Announcement on NAIS
USDA’s press conference on April 6 and the documents released the same day provide some very good news. USDA will not propose regulations in July 2006 for NAIS. USDA has also extended the timelines for the program. These are excellent developments. They mean that we have time: time to educate people about this program, time to work with our state agencies, and time to place pressure on our elected officials.
The bad news is that it appears that USDA has simply decentralized the system without significantly changing the requirements. Perhaps USDA recognized that handling NAIS as a nationalized program in a single database was technologically impossible. Perhaps USDA hopes to avoid a direct challenge to NAIS by not adopting regulations that could be challenged in court. Or perhaps USDA hopes that those who are against NAIS will not be able to effectively oppose a system that is scattered through 50 states and multiple private entities. While the reasons are not clear, the result is: NAIS will be implemented by the states and private entities, and USDA will have access to the information through a metadata portal. This is no less burdensome or intrusive on animal-owners than the original plan.
The documents released by USDA include “Strategies for the Implementation of NAIS” (“Strategies”) and “Administration of Official Identification Devices with the Animal Identification Number” (“Administration”). These documents have not been published in the Federal Register, unlike the Draft Plan and Draft Strategic Standards from 2005. To review these documents, please see http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/index.shtml.
A transcript of the press conference can be found here.
While the press release and Strategies document repeatedly discussed how NAIS is a “voluntary plan,” the USDA has set specific benchmarks. The Strategies states:
USDA will evaluate whether the participation levels are increasing at rates that will achieve full participation by 2009. Based on that analysis, USDA will determine if the market-driven incentives, along with industry “buy-in” for improved animal disease programs, is resulting in adequate participation and growth rates for NAIS to be successful by the established target dates. 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.
(Strategies, p.3, emphasis added.) There is no definition for “adequate participation” or “growth rates.” The benchmarks are set as follows:
January 2007: 25% of premises registered
January 2008: 70% of premises registered
40% of animals registered
January 2009: 100% of premises registered
100% of “new” animals identified (“New” is defined as animals born in the last year)
60% of animals < 1 year of age have complete movement data
(Strategies, p.3) “These benchmarks are participation levels APHIS believes are necessary for the industry, State, and Federal partnership to successfully achieve the goals and objectives of NAIS.” (Strategies, p.3.) Consistent with the goal of 100% participation, the Administration document states: “To have a successful animal disease management program, all producers and affected industry segments will have to participate eventually.” (Administration, p.1, emphasis added.)
In other words, the USDA contends that 100% of premises must be registered and that all animals born after January 2008 will have to be individually identified, to meet its goal for January 2009. And if that goal is not met, we can expect there to be federal regulation. Indeed, by setting the intermediate benchmarks, if USDA does not think that there is adequate “growth rates,” it may issue proposed regulations even before 2009. USDA still claims (incorrectly), that it has statutory authority to implement a mandatory NAIS if it chooses to. (See Transcript of Tele-News Conference, April 6, 2006; “REPORTER: … If you wanted to make this program mandatory, is this something you could do through the rulemaking process within USDA, or would you actually need Congress to put out some new legislation? SEC. JOHANNS: We would not. We can do that today. We would not need new legislation.”)
One of the confusing things about these documents is that USDA appears to have underestimated the number of premises and animals involved. The Strategies states that USDA estimates that there are 2 million premises and 40 million newborn animals annually. This leaves open the slight possibility that, if USDA reached those numbers, it might choose to ignore the fact that this would not mean 100% participation. But the USDA has not bound itself to that limitation. Rather, the Strategies defines “premises” in essentially the same way as the 2005 Plan: “[Premises that need to be registered by 2009] includes all locations that manage and/or hold livestock and poultry.” (Strategies, p.4, emphasis added.)
Moreover, even as it provides these low estimates, the Strategies reiterates that USDA’s goal is for 100% of premises and 100% of new animals to be registered. (Strategies, p.4-5.) And the USDA maintains its ability to mandate 100% compliance: “If the marketplace, along with State and Federal identification programs, does not provide adequate incentives for achieving complete participation, USDA may be required to implement regulations.” (Strategies, p.3.) Even if USDA were content with those 2 million registrations and 40 million animal identifications, many small and medium size producers will have to be included to reach those numbers, placing the heavy burdens of NAIS on their shoulders.
USDA also appears to be trying to quiet the opposition from the horse and poultry owners. The Strategies focuses on cattle in its specific examples (such as estimates of the number of cattle killed each year) and the Administration document identifies cattle as the priority for the animal identification stage. But neither document defines “animals.” Thus, we have to rely on the definitions provided in the published plan from 2005, which would include all livestock, including poultry and horses. Indeed, the Cooperative Agreement that was also released by USDA on April 6 includes the following Purpose statement:
The purpose of this CA [Cooperative Agreement] is to facilitate the deployment of an information technology infrastructure that will enable animal health officials to access animal identification, tracking, and movement data from data sets other than those maintained by the Federal government as necessary to support animal disease control and eradication programs of pests or diseases to protect all livestock, i.e., all farm-raised animals, in the United States. This agreement assists in implementing an interim/development phase to enable private organizations and States with systems that meet minimum requirements to participate in the development of the infrastructure for the timely advancement of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). (emphasis added)
Similarly, USDA appears to be trying to deflect the criticism of the technology aspects of NAIS. Thus, the Administration document provides that non-RFID tags may be used. At the same time, USDA clearly intends to move the entire program towards electronic identification: “At this time, USDA views visual identification tags as a starting point for the identification of cattle to ensure greater participation among all producers.” (Administration, p.5, emphasis added.) Once every premises is
registered in state and private databases, it would be easy to require the animal owners to move away from this “starting point” to the radio tags and microchips that would profit the technology industry.
There is no mention of abolishing the poultry or equine working groups. Nor is there any change in the composition of the working groups, so that they remain dominated by the large associations (who are potentially candidates for operating the private databases at a profit), large agricultural companies (who want NAIS to improve the export market), and technology companies (whose self-interest is obvious).
Overall, the April 6th announcements present a small victory, while still showing how much work is in front of us. We have gained precious time, and no longer face the imminent threat of regulations. Yet the USDA has not changed the true substance of NAIS. Rather, we face a fight in every state to prevent burdensome and pointless regulations, while still facing the threat of federal regulation if USDA believes that there is insufficient progress.
For more information, contact:
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance
8308 Sassman Rd
Austin, TX 78747
jmcgeary (at) att.net