By Rady Ananda
Scrap NAIS; decentralize the food industry
The hottest topic in agriculture is NAIS – the proposed National Animal Identification System. Using embedded microchips and mountains of paperwork, the federal government plans to create a database that tracks every animal in the nation. Independent producers and privacy advocates adamantly oppose the plan.
From May 14th thru June 30th, the USDA held “listening sessions” in fourteen cities across the nation. USDA asserted it wants “to engage stakeholders and producers to hear not only their concerns about [NAIS], but also potential or feasible solutions to those concerns.”
USDA hoped the listening sessions would provide a forum where stakeholders could help devise a NAIS that producers could live with. Instead, ranchers and farmers want the entire NAIS plan scrapped. Over 1600 people attended these sessions, with 500 testifying. Eighty-five percent of those who spoke condemned NAIS.
Listening Session Quotes
Darol Dickinson, longhorn cattleman from Ohio, believes the USDA plan is being forced on producers, despite objection.
“They’ve conveyed to us that we have no right to oppose them. They’ve told people, ‘This is going to happen.’ That doesn’t sit well with independent thinking people, especially ranchers and farmers.”
Dickinson spoke at the Harrisburg, PA listening session and conveyed on Carl Lanore’s radio show:
“I told them that their ‘option’ reminded me of being an old herd sire – being pushed down an alley with an electric prod, and somebody mentions to the herd sire, ‘How do you want to be castrated – with a dull knife, with a burdizzo or an elastic band?’ And the answer, of course, is none of the above.”
One group opposing NAIS, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to re-focus the nation’s animal disease and food safety efforts on several alternatives including:
- Decentralize the livestock industry and encourage local, diversified farms, which would increase animal health, food security, and food safety;
- Increase inspections of imported animals and agricultural products and bar the entry of animals from countries with known disease problems; and
- Improve enforcement of existing laws and inspections of large slaughterhouses and food processing facilities, including unannounced spot inspections at those large facilities.
Mike Callicrate, an independent cattle producer, is not at all happy with NAIS. He firmly believes that the best way to protect the food supply is to enforce existing laws and go back to unannounced inspections of factory farms, slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants.
“Today, USDA, in protecting the biggest and dirtiest meat plants, continues to block trace-back of pathogens to the source plant, a very easy and inexpensive measure that could improve food safety tomorrow.”
He blames the 2002 E. coli contamination of 20 million pounds of ConAgra beef on lack of inspections.
“USDA has done nothing to address the problems in the big packing plants where E. coli is systematically put into our meat daily while trusting these big profit-driven companies to self inspect under the HACCP hoax.”
HACCP is the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan whereby meatpackers and processing plants inspect themselves. They determine where the most likely places of contamination would occur and design mitigation techniques. The plan is then submitted to the USDA for approval, but enforcing it is left to the companies themselves.
At the Loveland, Colorado listening session, Kimmi Lewis of the Colorado Independent Cattle Growers Association said, “This country is free because we are allowed to own private property.” If it’s tracked by government, it’s not private.
At the Harrisburg, PA listening session, horse breeder Barbara Steever called the USDA “disingenuous” for saying that NAIS will be used to control the spread of disease. To make her point, Steever then asked some hard-hitting questions:
- “Why, then, are you lowering import restrictions to allow cattle in from Mexico that has bovine TB?
- Why are you trying to bring in cattle from Argentina that is known to have a reservoir of FMD (foot-and-mouth disease)?
- [Why are you allowing] cattle over 30 months of age from Canada, that have a higher risk of BSE, and disallowing private businesses from testing for BSE in response to their clients’ needs?
- Why are you moving a high security disease containment facility into the middle of cattle country?”
One of the strongest speakers, Rhonda Perry, operates a livestock and grain operation. She spoke on behalf of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, representing 5,600 families. Reiterating above concerns, Perry adds:
“We see industrial livestock operations all over this country that have created incredible environmental, health and food safety concerns.”
Perry points out that none of today’s food safety issues are caused by independent family farmers. She challenges the USDA to increase competition as a strategy to increase food safety. Bust the monopolies and decentralize food production, “instead of looking at this unproven, ineffective, anti-farmer, corporate-driven program of NAIS.”
Others pointed out that NAIS violates our Constitutional rights, including religion. Amish and other religious communities reject implants and biotechnology.
Several dozen videos from the NAIS listening sessions have been posted at YouTube.
Interestingly, the USDA held no listening sessions in Wisconsin, where NAIS has been made mandatory. Farmers there are furious with the bureaucracy and have been warning the rest of the nation. In NAIS Smackdown: The gloves come off, R-Calf lists a better set of food safety proposals instead of NAIS.
Biggest Danger to Food Safety is a Centralized Food System
Safe food spokesperson, Michael Pollan, has long warned us that a centralized food system is uniquely vulnerable to disease and even to a terrorist attack. Also, because concentrated animal feeding operations require the use of antibiotics to keep the herd alive, superbugs with antibiotic resistance are becoming more common.
In the film, Fresh, Missouri natural hog farmer Russ Kremer shares a personal tale of how he almost died from contracting a monster form of strep. The experience convinced him to exterminate his entire herd and start over with a natural herd.
The USDA has a long history of using regulations (like HACCP) to protect Big Ag, instead of consumers and small producers. President Obama appointed Tom Vilsack, the “biotechnology governor of the year,” as Secretary of Agriculture. Obama also appointed Monsanto’s Michael Taylor to head the new Food Safety Working Group.
Astute writers and activists caution that even if NAIS is defeated, animal tracing is being snuck into pending legislation, such as HR 2749.
Independent family farmers will have a tough row to hoe trying to convince a Monsanto Administration to do right by small farmers. As they plead with a corporate-owned federal government intent on globalization, the American people may be their best ally.
Buy fresh, locally grown food. Support free range and organic farmers. Yes, healthy food costs more up front. But you save it on the back end, needing fewer doctor visits or pharmaceutical drugs to deal with the diseases (obesity, diabetes, cancer) caused by factory food. You’ll also contribute to your local economy and a healthy environment.
Several recent documentaries discuss the difference between natural and factory food production. In addition to The World According to Monsanto, be sure to see the films below (these are my reviews):
Rady Ananda’s articles have appeared in several online and print publications, including three books. She graduated in December 2003 from The Ohio State University’s School of Agriculture with a BS in Natural Resources.