Friday, January 18, 2008

Farmers fear a barnyard Big Brother

As if there aren't enough ways that government and/or big business have found to creep into our lives, monitor our movements, trace our transactions, and listen to our phone calls! Now they want to chip animals and have small farmers report nearly everything that happens to them.

I'm talking about - and this isn't a joke - the Bush administration's "National Animal Identification System" initiative. This proposal to "chip" animals with RFID tags isn't just an invasion of privacy (as will be explained), it also would achieve an additional goal of the administration: provide an even greater advantage to agribusiness at the expense of family farms. See, big industrial farms would only have to track herds, not individual cattle...unlike small farmers who'd be forced to track each and every one...a HUGE pain, and cost.

Have you ever heard of a more unholy alliance than big agribusiness and the rapidly expanding surveillance industry???

It's not often that I come across proposals this lousy. I'll let Nicole Gaouette of the Los Angeles Times do the heavy lifting here and explain this rather diabollical initiative, and then below this Times piece is a much more hard hitting critique offered by longtime populist, and family farm advocate, Jim Hightower.

Nicole Reports:

A Bush administration initiative, the National Animal Identification System is meant to provide a modern tool for tracking disease outbreaks within 48 hours, whether natural or the work of a bioterrorist.

Most farm animals, even exotic ones such as llamas, will eventually be registered. Information will be kept on every farm, ranch or stable. And databases will record every animal movement from birth to slaughterhouse, including trips to the vet and county fairs.But the system is spawning a grass-roots revolt.

Family farmers see it as an assault on their way of life by a federal bureaucracy with close ties to industrial agriculture. They point out that they will have to track every animal while vast commercial operations will be allowed to track whole herds. Privacy advocates say the database would create an invasive, detailed electronic record of farmers' activities.

...despite the administration's insistence that the program is voluntary, farmers and families, such as the Calderwoods, chafe at the heavy-handed and often mandatory way states have implemented it, sometimes with the help of sheriff's deputies. The result is a system meant to help farms that many farmers oppose.


The first stage of the animal ID system involves free registration of the "premises" where livestock are kept. That seven-digit number is stored by the federal government, which had registered 440,997 farms as of last week, out of 1.43 million. The second stage, now under way, involves identifying animals with a microchip or a plastic or metal ear tag containing a 15-digit code.

The third stage, not yet in effect, would require farmers to report animal movements to the database within 24 hours. Farms that move animals in bulk from feedlot to slaughterhouse can get one animal ID for the entire herd. But smaller farmers who move and sell animals individually would have to get each animal an ID at a cost of about $1.50 apiece.

Small farmers are complaining about the cost of ID microchips and technology readers, as well as the labor costs involved in tracking and tagging animals.


"Where is the scientific proof that small farmers pose the same disease risk as large confined feeding operations?" asked Judith McGeary, an Austin, Texas, farmer and lawyer, who founded the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance to fight the database system.

"I could have been convinced that there were benefits to this program if they had come back and said here are the studies, here's the epidemiology."McGeary, who raises grass-fed lamb, free-range poultry and laying hens, said the program could cripple smaller family farms and organic growers. "It will be impossible to report every death, every coyote carrying off a chicken; you just can't," she said.


Opponents of the ID system, however, say USDA actions are making the program virtually compulsory. Since 2004, USDA has pledged more than $51 million to states and farm groups to promote premises registration -- but they must register a certain number of farms to get the money. "They only get the money if they get the performance," said Knight, who acknowledged "a great deal of resistance out there." Some states have responded by registering farms in less than voluntary ways.


Many farmers also deeply resent the way USDA's youth programs, including 4H and Future Farmers of America, are requiring children like Brandi Calderwood to register."This is like the government saying your kids can't be in your community soccer program unless you register your home with the government," Cathy Calderwood said. "It's just way too much Big Brother."

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Now for the real "lowdown" from Jim Hightower on the government's plan to protect us from terrorist livestock.

Hightower writes:

This is Animal Farm meets the Marx Brothers! It would be one thing if this were meant for the massive factory farms run by agribusiness conglomerates, which account for the vast number of disease outbreaks. After all, they have corporate staffs, computer networks, and existing systems of inventory tracking. But no -- rather than focus on the big boys that cause the big harm, NAIS targets hundreds of thousands of small farms, homesteaders, organic producers, hobbyists ... and maybe even you.


This is far more onerous than the burden put on owners of guns and autos, the only two items of personal property presently subject to general systems of permanent registration. Gun owners, for example, can take their guns off their premises (to go hunting, attend a gun show, or just carry them around) without filing a report with the government. But NAIS would deny this freedom to chicken owners! The authorities are declaring hens to be more dangerous than a Belgian FN Five-SeveN handgun, and every time Hen No. 8406390528 strays from her assigned GPS locale, NAIS autocrats would require her owner to report within 24 hours the location, duration and purpose of her departure -- or be subject to a stiff fine.


To find out who's driving this, we have to ask the old Latin question, Cui bono? (Who benefits?) That takes us to another obscure acronym, NIAA, which stands for the National Institute of Animal Agriculture. Despite its official-sounding name, this is a private consortium largely made up of two groups: proponents of corporate agriculture and hawkers of surveillance technologies. They are the ones who conceived the program, wrote the USDA proposal, and are pushing hard to impose it on us.

Such industrialized meat producers as Cargill and Tyson have three reasons to love NAIS. First, the scheme fits their operations to a T, not only because they are already thoroughly computerized, but also because they engineered a neat corporate loophole: If an entity owns a vertically integrated, birth-to-death factory system with thousands of animals (as the Cargills and Tysons do), it does not have to tag and track each one but instead is given a single lot number to cover the whole flock or herd. Second, it's no accident that NAIS will be so burdensome and costly (fees, tags, computer equipment, time) to small farmers and ranchers. The giant operators are happy to see these pesky competitors saddled with another reason to go out of business, thus leaving even more of the market to the big guys.

Third, the Cargills and Tysons are eager to assure Japan, Europe and other export customers that the U.S. meat industry is finally doing something to clean up the widespread contamination of its product. A national animal-tracking system would give the appearance of doing this without making the corporations incur the cost of a real cleanup. The health claims of NAIS are a sham; NAIS backers assumed they could sneak their little package of nasties past the people before anyone woke up. Wrong. Because it does not touch the source of E. coli, salmonella, listeria, mad cow and other common meat-borne diseases. Such contamination comes from the inherently unhealthy practices (mass crowding, growth stimulants, feeding regimens, rushed assembly lines, poor sanitation, etc.) of industrial-scale meat operations, and NAIS will do nothing to stop these practices. Moreover, tracking ends at the time of slaughter, and it's from slaughter onward that most spoilage occurs. NAIS doesn't trace any contamination after this final '"event" in the animals' lives.

Which brings us to the chip companies and sellers of computer tracking systems. In addition to such brand-name players as Microsoft, outfits with names like Viatrace, AgInfoLink, and Digital Angel are drooling over the profits promised by the compulsory tagging of all farm animals. The USDA figures there are more than two million premises in the United States with eligible livestock. There are 6 million sheep in our country, 7 million horses, 63 million hogs, 97 million cows, 260 million turkeys, 300 million laying hens, 9 billion chickens and untold numbers of bison, alpaca, quail and other animals -- all needing to be chipped and monitored. And, as new animals are born, they need chips, too -- a self-perpetuating market!


In at least 11 states, legislation has been introduced to reject the program, and in Texas and Vermont, aggressive grassroots opposition has forced legislators to back off plans to mandate premise registration. I also know some urban Democrats in Congress who had been supporting NAIS on the assumption that it was a consumer protection program. They've since had "visits" from agitated home folks who helped them see the light. Such visits are producing results. This summer, the House Appropriations Committee pointedly refused to approve any new funds for NAIS, instead demanding "a complete and detailed strategic plan for the program, including tangible outcomes ..." Incredibly, NAIS has gone as far as it has without ever having been subjected to a cost-benefit analysis! At last, the committee has now declared that without being shown some real benefits of such a sweeping ID system, it "has no justification to continue funding the program."

This is a big change in congressional attitude. However, billions of dollars are at stake in getting NAIS implemented, and the profiteers form a powerful lobby that will keep pushing at all levels, by all means. To hold them off requires more of us to learn what they're up to and to join the grassroots rebellion against them. You might not own a chicken or a cow, but you do own some fundamental freedoms that NAIS subverts in its pell-mell pursuit of special-interest profits. Some good people are standing up for those freedoms -- check the "Do Something" box to find out what you can do to help.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is the NAIS tagging the same for everyone?
No. Those who have large commercial herds can get one number for the entire herd and do not have to tag. Fewer than 200 people or companies control 80% of the chicken, milk, eggs and 50% of the pork. Yet tagging will be mandatory for the few million farmers who control only 20% of the animals.

Are there additional plans for control of our livestock and land by the USDA?
Try reading the text of Safe and Secure Food Act of 2005 and see what you think. Here's a source:

Also check out the draft guide to good farming practices from International Standards Organization:

Here's a slide presentation--Good farming practices lead to transition to sustainable Agriculture:

“Private land ownership is a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice.... Public control of land use is therefore indispensable....” The document was signed by then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Carla A. Hills, as head of the U.S. delegation,.... 1976 Report of Habitat I: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (subscription), contains 65-pages of specific recommendations about how governments can put an effective end to private land ownership and gain absolute control of land use