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Opposition grows against NAIS

Angela Eckhardt, Capital Press 9/14/06

"Over my dead body." That's when some independent farmers have said the USDA might be able to fully implement its National Animal Identification System. And not a moment sooner.

A year ago I was lamenting the lack of opposition to a mandatory livestock tracking program. Now it looks like the federal government will have to quell a rural revolution in order to put NAIS in place.

Perhaps that's why the USDA has changed its tune so dramatically in recent months. Where before it claimed near total producer support for the program, now officials are working to appease the growing opposition.

In June, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service released a NAIS "Guide for Small-Scale or Non-Commercial Producers," which critics say is all doublespeak.

"Participation in the NAIS is voluntary." "There are no enforcement mechanisms or penalties related to NAIS," the document insists.

Of course, farmers know with certainty that the USDA plans to make the program mandatory.

According to the April 2006 "Strategies for Implementation of NAIS," if 100 percent participation is not achieved voluntarily by 2009, the USDA plans to implement regulations to make participation mandatory.

Already the pressure is on state agriculture agencies to implement rules for mandatory participation. Wisconsin, Indiana and Texas are all pursuing or have passed mandatory premises registration. Vermont put mandatory premises registration on hold until the federal government can assure 100 percent confidentiality of the system.

That is a promise the government can't make. No database is 100 percent secure, and having multiple privately owned databases instead of one federal database is no safeguard. It simply means independent farmers will have their information in the hands of their large-scale competitors as well as open to the government.

The USDA has also tried to assure small farmers that farmers may not be required to use electronic tracking, and that non-commercial producers won't be affected. Again, critics charge these are blatant lies.

NAIS was developed by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a consortium of meat packers, large agribusiness associations and the manufacturers of electronic surveillance, and it is designed to serve their interests alone.

The NIAA's U.S. Animal Identification Plan makes clear that the primary objective is to reassure international trading partners of the health of American herds, not consumer safety or even disease prevention.

Moreover, the program "adds value to the product," according to the NIAA, because "as more retailers and consumers demand source-verified systems, the ability of producers to sell their products to these markets might depend on the ability to trace products to the farm of origin."

Instead of questioning the anonymous factory farming system, which many small farmers charge is the source of these livestock and poultry diseases, NAIS would give a final stamp of approval on anonymous food.

Consumers would still have no idea where their meat came from under NAIS, and the nation's small farmers that can provide farm of origin information would have to depart the marketplace to avoid opening their homes to warrantless searches, seizures and forced "depopulation" of their beloved animals - members of their family.

No surprise that there is lots of saber-rattling and tough talk coming from our independent farmers. "Don't let it happen in America: USDA agents in protective gear could be staging dawn raids on small farms to confiscate your horse, cow, ducks, sheep, trout or chickens! Say no to NAIS," says one poster that's been popping up in feed stores around the country.

Dozens of anti-NAIS websites now exist, including stopanimalid.org, nonais.org, farmandranchfreedom.org, libertyark.net, noanimalid.com, and naiswatch.com.

Many farmers plan to refuse compliance. They worry their states are already turning their information over to the feds, and wonder how veterinary relationships will be undermined when NAIS enforcement begins.

And still most urban consumers I speak with don
't know about NAIS and can't believe something so Orwellian is actually being forced on Americans.

Fortunately, the NAIS opposition is gaining ground as small farmers unite against the greatest threat they have ever faced. The very right to farm is under attack, and despite the USDA's recent back-peddling, Big Brother is marching full steam ahead.

Angela Eckhardt writes on freedom and farming issues from her home in Lostine, Ore. Her website is www.freedomsolutionsnw.org.
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