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Beyond Same-Sex Marriage
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The Federal Animal ID Program
D uring a public meeting last March in Ellsworth, Maine, two of the state’s top agricultural officials were “pied.” The pies weren’t apple or cherry—they were manure. The meeting was one of 50 being held across the state to persuade livestock producers to sign up for a state animal identification program linked to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Following the cow pie action the state backed off pushing its ID program, deciding to wait and see how the feds proceed.
The Ellsworth “big stink” represented what Maine journalist Andy Kekacs termed a “firestorm of criticism” of the animal ID program. Such resistance is spreading fast across the nation. Small farmers and ranchers who raise livestock are banding together in virtually every state to oppose NAIS. A virtual battle is also growing on the Internet to make the resistance more effective nationally.
Opponents say the USDA’s animal ID program is designed to favor “the big boys” in the industry over the small timers. They charge that the program’s added expenses will drive smaller livestock folks out of business. They claim it is unconstitutional, an invasion of privacy, and a violation of property rights. They insist that the federal program will create a huge bureaucracy that will not achieve its stated purpose, which is to stop the spread of potential epidemics such as Mad Cow Disease.
1984 Meets Animal Farm
A s the USDA puts it, the goal of the National Animal Identification System is “to establish a system that can identify all premises and animals that have had direct contact with a foreign animal disease or domestic disease of concern within 48 hours of discovery.” Congress gave the USDA authority to create such a system in 2002 through the Animal Health Protection Act. Subsequent to that and the 2003 outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in Washington State, came the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP), the predecessor to NAIS. According to the USDA, “a partnership of more than 100 animal and livestock professionals from 70 associations, organizations, and government developed the USAIP.” Critics of NAIS charge that industry heavyweights such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Monsanto, Cargill Meat, and the National Pork Producers dominated that group.
The USDA reports, “On April 27, 2004, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the framework for implementing the NAIS.” A year later the USDA released its draft plan for NAIS. Word soon got around about its specifics, igniting the “firestorm of criticism” that led to cow pies being flung at the Maine agricultural officials this year.
Three Strikes and You’re Out of Business
T he NAIS has three components: premises identification, animal identification, and animal tracking. Premises are all the places in the U.S. that raise cattle, deer and elk, goats and sheep, llamas and alpacas, poultry and pigs. The USDA wants each premise’s address, contact name, type of premises, and phone number. All premises will be assigned a seven digit premises ID number. All information collected will be fed into a state database linked to a federal database, which is connected to global positioning satellites. The USDA assures us that all data will remain private, used only for its intended purposes. Critics doubt this, especially since data will also be shared with “big boy” industry database owners.
Animal identification involves tagging all the animals on all the premises registered—the USDA estimates there are 40 million such critters. Each animal will be assigned a 15 digit animal ID number. But an exception is being made for premises with a large amount of animals that are bred and moved in groups. In those cases these premises can get 13 digit “group/lot” ID numbers.
Thus big operatiors will have to purchase only one animal ID tag for each “group/lot,” while small timers will have to buy one for each animal. A 2003 article in Beef magazine, “Bigger is Cheaper,” reported on a study by Kansas State University. The study, a joint Beef /KSU venture, calculated the cost per animal ID and associated technology. This was $24.66 for a herd of 62, compared to $3.99 for a herd of 1,250. The average national cattle herd is about 20.
The study assumed the animal tag was a radio frequency ID, which can track each animal. This technology requires other equipment, such as software and electronic readers. The USDA says it is “technology neutral” on this issue and that other forms of ID, such as retinal scans and DNA, are under consideration by the industry.”
In the third NAIS component, animal tracking, the USDA will use its Animal Tracing Processing System, “commonly known as the metadase system, that will allow state and federal animal health offcials to query NAIS and private databases during a disease investigation.” The USDA is currently entering into “cooperative agreements” with “private [i.e., agribusiness] database owners.” According to the May 16 Ag Weekly newspaper, under NAIS animal owners must report, within 24 hours, any missing animal or missing tag and any sale, death, or slaughter of any animal or any movement of an animal off or within a farm or homestead.
The USDA now maintains that participation in NAIS is voluntary—a change from its 2005 draft—“while the system is being phased in.” But it also states, “If the marketplace, along with State and Federal identification programs, does not provide adequate incentives for achieving participation, USDA may be required to implement regulations.” Translation: make participation mandatory.
I n an April 2006 press release, current Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns announced his agency’s timeline for implementation of NAIS. “We recognize this represents one of the largest systematic changes ever faced by the livestock industry,” he said. In the release the USDA stated, “The implementation plan continues to set an aggressive timeline for insuring full implementation of NAIS by 2009.”
But reports on nonais.com and other websites detail USDA efforts to assign premises ID numbers (PINs) without the owners’ permission. At the end of May Walter Jeffries wrote, “A while back the USDA called me and tried to get me to answer questions so they could sign me up for a PIN. Today I got a call from the government again and the woman wanted to give me a PIN number. I asked what she was about and she would not say. She just said she needed to give me a PIN number. I refused and hung up on her. Farmers and homesteaders in other states have had the same experience.”
Another recent report, from the Texas Animal Health Commission Watch, “Phone survey = Premises Registration SCAM,” confirms Jef fries’s assertions: “Everyone needs to be aware that there is a possibility that some USDA/TAHC ‘Hired Guns’ or unnamed subcontractors are in the process of conducting some sort of agricultural/farm survey. We have received word that this is going on east of Dallas. The phone number showing up on caller ID is from the 405 area code, which is in the Oklahoma City area. They call you up on the pretext of conducting a survey. Later you find out you have been voluntarily signed up on the premises ID tax roll. Do not be a victim.”
As to the second component of NAIS, the USDA stated last April, “The animal identification phase is being implemented by March 2006 and 100 percent (40 million) of new animals tagged by 2009.
In May Congressperson Ron Paul (RTX) introduced an amendment to the USDA’s annual spending bill that would have cut further funding for NAIS. That effort failed, but in a statement titled “Stop the National Animal ID System,” he remarked (in part) later that month: “The intrusive monitoring system amounts to nothing more than a tax on livestock owners, allowing the federal government detailed access to their private property…. Once NAIS becomes mandatory, any failure to report and tag an animal subjects the owner to $1,000 per day fines…. NAIS also forces livestock owners to comply with new paperwork and monitoring regulations. These farmers and ranchers would be paying for an assault on their property and privacy rights, as NAIS empowers federal agents to enter and seize property without a warrant—a blatant violation of the 4th amendment. More than anything, NAIS places our family farmers and ranchers at an eco nomic disadvantage against agri business and overseas competition.”
Paul pinned his hopes on Senate action to defund and stop NAIS. But perhaps the real power to stop it lies in the strength of opponents mobilizing on their farms and homesteads, in their communities, through their blogs, websites, and discussion groups spreading information like a firestorm.
Michael Steinberg is a veteran activist and writer living in Connecticut.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.