Publicl Radio Commentary
June 2, 2009
By Sandy Courtnage
NAIS is for the birds . . . and the cows, pigs, goats, llamas, sheep, horses, etc.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just concluded another summer road trip to solicit comments on its National Animal Identification System. This ‘listening tour’ was a way for USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to be able to report to Congress what rural America thinks about Animal Identification.
As background, the Animal ID program has been in discussion for at least 5 years now. It was planned as a mandatory system, but huge backlash from small and independent livestock producers, youth groups, religious entities, and others formed an unlikely coalition. The system currently remains voluntary at the national level, but some prominent Congressional lawmakers are pushing for a mandatory system.
Secretary Vilsack concedes that the initial reasons for opposing an ID system remain relevant:
- It is an invasion of privacy by the federal government;
- It is expensive;
- It is unworkable for small producers;
- It does not make food safer or consumers safer;
- It unfairly favors large corporate factory farms, which already enjoy the many financial benefits of a government that has not enforced its own competition and consolidation laws.
Reports from the countryside about the listening sessions indicate that the overwhelming sentiment hasn’t changed through the years.
All the meetings were well attended, but only a small number were chosen by lottery to speak. In Alabama, USDA’s listening tour heard from 30 people, with 28 speaking out against the ID program. In Texas, 58 out of 64 people were against it, and in Washington, 26 out of 31 were opposed.
Reports show that at all the sessions consumers have now joined with farmers in letting the USDA know that Animal ID is not a solution for animal health, food safety or food security. Many testified that USDA should focus its food safety efforts on “high risk situations, namely the factory farms,” that will be the major beneficiary of the ID program.
As it is proposed, the animal ID will not be implemented uniformly. The same diligence and identification required of family farmers will not be required of large corporate animal facilities. These operations, which control the lives of thousands of poultry or livestock from birth to death, will be given a single lot number to cover the whole flock or herd.
However, family farmers – and even hobbyists with a few horses, llamas or a couple of laying hens in the backyard – will be required to identify every animal owned. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure what is gained from micro chipping a couple of chickens or a kid’s horse. To take it a step further: should I be subject to a large fine if my chicken visits the neighbors, and I fail to report its departure from my premise within 48 hours? A worry about raccoons soon morphs into one about the federal government. The ID plan says a livestock producer must document every off-farm movement in the life of each animal – or face the threat of federal prosecution and fines up to $1,000 a day for noncompliance.
All this may sound silly, but DC lawmakers who have forgotten or have never known what goes on in rural America, are simply presenting us with a diversion. Animal ID, all federal protests to the contrary, has never been about food safety or public safety. It does pave the road into international markets for large corporations, and will help them make lots more money along the way.
The hearings, which concluded yesterday, never made it to Montana, but you can send written comments. Just direct your search browser to USDA Animal ID. You’ll find the on-line address – and a whole lot more.
For the Montana Farmers Union, I’m Sandy Courtnage. Thanks for listening.