From the February 2007 Idaho Observer:
Update on NAIS and related issues
Update on NAIS and related issues
If we can agree that the "new world" is "coming into view," then we can agree that control—control of resources, control of people and control of whatever else moves or stands still—is the main focus of this "elitist" agenda. The controllers have demonstrated that they are absolutely ruthless; human lives, animal lives and the environment are of zero consequence in the quest for control. Many people accept the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) as a convenient, high-tech way to track and monitor pathogenic organisms in the food supply. But that is just the cover story for which there is zero scientific support. The true intent of NAIS becomes apparent when the logical extensions of new world madmen are considered.
by Judith McGeary
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a program developed by agri-business and technology companies in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2002, an industry trade organization, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), took the plan to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been working on it ever since.
The NAIS applies to everyone who owns even one livestock animal, including a chicken, horse, cow, sheep, goat, pig, or bison. It would require each person to: (1) register their property; (2) individually identify each animal, in most cases with electronic identification and; (3) report "events" to a government-accessible database within 24 hours.
The last few months have seen a lot of developments in the fight against NAIS: the NIAA’s annual conference, panels at other conferences (including the Weston A. Price Foundation conference), and a new document issued by the USDA. With each event or development, three issues predominate: (1) whether NAIS is mandatory or voluntary (2) what are the expected benefits and; (3) what are the costs.
Mandatory or voluntary?
On November 22, 2006, USDA published a new plan entitled: "National Animal Identification System (NAIS): A User Guide and Additional Information Resources." You can find it online at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/naislibrary/userguide.shtml. The User Guide was clearly written in response to the grassroots criticism of the NAIS. Unfortunately, when one cuts through the bureaucratese, it appears that the USDA has not changed much, if any, of the substance of the NAIS.
The USDA’s new User Guide states repeatedly that the NAIS is voluntary at the federal level. Before pointing out all of the holes in this claim, it’s worth acknowledging that this is an improvement. Many states have claimed that they "must" implement the NAIS because it is a "federal mandate" – essentially, they need to do it before the feds implement the program.
Pro-NAIS forces now have lost that argument. It is now absolutely clear that the NAIS is not a federal mandate and that the state legislators and agencies need to take responsibility for their own actions.
But despite repeating ad nauseum that NAIS is voluntary at the federal level, USDA notes that it has authority to make the NAIS mandatory if it decides to. The same people who tried to make NAIS mandatory for several years now want us to trust that they have changed their minds and that NAIS is, and will remain, a voluntary program—unless they change their minds again.
Perhaps more importantly, even if USDA never adopts regulations making the NAIS mandatory at the federal level, it can still effectively establish a mandatory program. USDA can, and still is, encouraging and funding mandatory programs at the state level. The User Guide allows states to impose mandatory animal identification and premises registration programs. USDA Secretary Johanns has stated that funding mandatory state programs does not conflict with a "voluntary" federal program. [emphasis adeed]
The same day that USDA released its new User Guide, it also announced the availability of over $14 million in funds for states and Indian tribes to implement NAIS. The Work Plan for applicants reiterates the USDA’s goal of "full participation by 2009." In other words, the registration of every single person who owns even one head of livestock and the identification of hundreds of millions of animals. The USDA will withhold part of the funds until the state shows that it has reached specified results.
At the state level, we have seen a variety of responses to this federal pressure. Some states, such as Wisconsin and Indiana, have adopted mandatory regulations under a state-level NAIS statute. Other states are using existing programs to force people to comply with NAIS; for example, New York has rolled the information from the scrapie program into the national NAIS database. And yet other states have developed so-called voluntary programs, without going through the normal rulemaking procedures, that involve various coercive methods: Telling people that they will not be able to participate in events or sell at sales barns if they don’t register, linking farm assistance programs to registration, etc.
Michigan provides a particularly instructive example about the realities of the NAIS program. Michigan is using its tuberculosis program to require that all cattle be tagged with Radio Frequency Identification Devices by March, 2007. At the NIAA Conference, a representative for the Michigan program urged state officials to follow their example and implement mandatory programs, as the best (or only) way to reach the USDA’s goals for the NAIS. We do not have any protection against mandatory or coercive programs until both Congress and state legislatures adopt legislation reining in the agencies.
What is the basis for this program? What are the benefits?
Along with reassuring statements about the voluntary nature of the NAIS, the User Guide claims that there will be many benefits to the program for everyone, ranging from animal health to the livestock market. Nowhere does the User Guide provide any hard facts or even theoretical models to support its claim.
The [commonly minsunderstood] purpose behind NAIS is international trade and consumer confidence. At the NIAA conference, USDA Secretary Johanns stated that he became convinced that animal identification was needed while on a trade mission to Japan. Speaker after speaker at the conference focused on the supposed need for NAIS to improve international trade. No one addressed the fact that the U.S. imports three to eight times as much beef as it exports. No one addressed the fact that farmers who direct-market their products are not affected by the international market. No one discussed alternatives to NAIS, such as testing all exported cattle for BSE (mad cow). And no one discussed the ethics problems with imposing a program on every animal owner in order to benefit a handful of meat packing companies.
Rather, the industry and government officials keep trying to sell the NAIS as an animal health program. One would expect that a disease control program would be designed based on scientific studies and epidemiological models addressing such issues as high-risk versus low-risk situations, the impact the program would have on disease and comparisons to alternative approaches. None of these appear to exist for the NAIS.
At the NIAA conference, I asked Neil Hammerschmidt, the USDA official in charge of implementing the NAIS, for the scientific basis for the design of the NAIS. His response was that he was in charge of the practical implementation of NAIS and was the wrong person to ask for the scientific underpinning. In other words, the government official in charge of the program does not have a grasp of the science that supposedly supports the design of that very program!
Hammerschmidt recommended I speak with Steve Weber in USDA’s Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health. When asked, Weber stated that he knew of only one specific study (which he was a co-author on) that supported the design of NAIS. He said that the design of the NAIS was based on a variety of studies, along with looking at what other countries have done. He promised to email me the citation for his article, and ask around to see if other people in the USDA knew of other specific studies. I have never received any additional information from him.
I have also spoken about this issue with Dr. Wiemers, the head vet for USDA on NAIS, and multiple industry representatives. Each conversation has provided a central message: "Trust the experts."
Even if one were inclined to do so, the lack of any scientific support for their program destroys their credibility. And the pro-NAIS forces appear oblivious to the concept that a farmer might have a better grasp of what is needed for animal health than a desk jockey with a degree.
The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has filed a Freedom of Information Act request on this issue. If and when we receive a response from the government, we’ll provide an update in the Wise Traditions journal.
What are the costs?
The NAIS will impose significant and tangible costs to participants.
In the latest User Guide, USDA purports to provide an estimate of the costs. But it seems USDA officials have simply pulled numbers out of thin air. As just one example, according to USDA, a horse owner would pay "just a few dollars" for a microchip. But even for those implanting the chips themselves, just the microchip and syringe costs around $18. With a vet’s assistance, the cost can be anywhere from $35 to $70. Those quotes do not include the cost of hauling the horse to the vet, or paying the barn-visit fee. Fees for other animals may differ, of course, but the cost of electronic tagging is not cheap for any species.
USDA also fails to include the costs of RFID readers, computers or other means required for reporting to the NAIS database, and the untold hours of labor involved with tagging animals, record keeping, and reporting. Estimates from the Australian Beef Association place the total cost of tagging and tracking at $37 to $40 per animal, on average. A British parliamentary report estimated the costs for the British system at $69/head. Since people who own one or just a few animals usually pay more than large producers, because of economies of scale, these averages understate the probable cost for most individuals.
Interestingly, I presented these numbers at a panel discussion on the NAIS at the Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference. After the panel discussion, Hammerschmidt and both state vets (North and South Carolina) quietly cornered me to try to convince me to stop talking about these numbers. Of all of the challenges I raised to the NAIS, this one seemed to bother them the most. They claim that the numbers are wrong and we wouldn’t see those costs in the U.S. Yet when I asked them to show me any analysis they had done to support their claim that the NAIS would not cost this much, they couldn’t.
One industry claim is that RFID tags will be sold for $2.75 each and will include "lifetime reporting." Compared to the costs reported for existing programs in Australia and Britain, this claim is difficult to believe. A conversation with one of the board members of the U.S. Animal Identification Organization (USAIO) cleared up the confusion. USAIO was created in 2006 by Farm Bureau, National Cattlemens Association and others to manage the "industry-led animal movement database." Apparently, USAIO’s plan is to develop contracts with slaughterhouses and sales barns to fund part of the cost of the databases. So, instead of paying for reports directly, animal owners will pay indirectly every time they take an animal for processing or sale. And whatever shortfall is not covered by the levies on the tags and services will presumably be made up in our tax dollars.
USDA repeatedly says that competition in the market will keep reporting fees down for animal owners. However, the User Guide does not say how these costs will be controlled or minimized. The technology companies and industrial-agriculture associations have played a key role in developing the plans for the NAIS; they will undoubtedly work to maximize their profits from it, which will not keep costs down for farmers.
These are just specific examples of an overarching problem: The USDA has no idea what it is talking about, when it comes to either the costs or the benefits of NAIS. The User Guide even admits this: "USDA plans to have a cost-benefit analysis conducted that will help us more precisely forecast the potential economic benefits of NAIS." Even though they have spent years and tens of millions of dollars developing NAIS, USDA has never conducted a cost-benefit analysis to see if this thing makes sense or not.
What you can do about NAIS
The government and industry officials have spent over a decade developing their plans for NAIS. The grassroots movement opposing NAIS just started to gain momentum over the last year, and has a long way to go – most Americans still don’t even know NAIS exists. If we want to stop it, we have to do more!
Writing your state legislators and Congressmen is a great first step. You can multiply your effectiveness by helping to build a bigger grassroots movement. Hand copies of this article or other information about NAIS to your neighbors. Put stacks of flyers at your local feed stores and auction barns. Help to organize local meetings and bring in speakers. You can download materials and information at both www.libertyark.net and www.farmandranchfreedom.org. If you don’t have internet access, you can call the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance at (866) 687-6452.
Other Regulatory Issues
Food Chemical News hosted a conference on Food Law & Regulation in October 2006.
Registration under the Bioterrorism Act of 2002: The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires that "domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for human or animal consumption" in the United States must register with the FDA by the end of 2006. The statute exempts both "farms" and "private residences." Unfortunately, the FDA adopted rather unclear regulations and their help desk – run by an independent contractor – told people that they had to register their farms if they sold anything off of it. At the conference, Leslye Fraser, Director of the FDA Office of Regulations and Policy, stated that sales directly from the farm do not trigger the registration requirement. FDA’s guidance document can be found at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/ffregui4.html
Food and Drug Administration’s priorities: Michael Landa, Deputy Director for Regulatory Affairs, spoke about current events at the FDA. A great deal of his talk centered around the FDA’s need for funding. Disparate interests, including both consumer groups and pharmaceutical interests, have formed the "Coalition for a Stronger FDA" to try to increase FDA’s resources. See www.fdacoalition.org/ for more information on that effort. Despite the FDA’s lack of resources, they place both raw milk and egg safety high on their list of priorities, above shellfish safety, foodborne viruses, allergens, and chemical contaminants. FDA does not appear to be paying any attention at all to biotech foods; in fact, Dr. Landa labeled them as merely a "perception" issue! FDA is considering new regulations addressing egg safety and labeling, so we need to be vigilant to ensure that they do not place onerous burdens on pastured egg farmers.
Uniformity for Food Act: The Uniformity for Food Act, HR 4167 and S3128, would radically change the traditional allocation of authority over food safety among the local, state, and federal authorities. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture has been actively opposing the Act. The bill would pre-empt all local and state regulation of food. The meaning of the provision is not completely clear, but it could pose a threat to state laws allowing for the sale of raw milk or local laws that provide greater protection against genetically modified foods. The bill was passed in the House without a hearing; the Senate held a hearing in July, but did not invite several key players in the debate. The bill is currently still in committee and is not expected to pass before Congress recesses. We will monitor the next Congress to see if it is introduced again.
Judith McGeary is the Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter leader for Austin, Texas. She is also an attorney, the executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and owner with her husband of a sustainable, pasture-based farm. She has a B.S. in Biology from Stanford University and a law degree from the Univ. of Texas. You can reach her by email at Judith@FarmAndRanchFreedom.org
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2006.
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