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National Animal ID System subject of legal action

Cookson Beecher Capital Press 10/1/2007

Concerned about Washington state's involvement with the National Animal Identification System, a small-scale livestock owner in Western Washington has taken legal action against the state's Agriculture Department.

In the motion filed with Superior Court in Thurston County on Sept. 28, Celeste Bishop asked the court to either order the department to produce the documents she has requested pertaining to the National Animal Identification System or explain why they haven't been produced.

Under the Public Disclosure Act, Bishop made her initial request on May 15, 2006. In her request, she told the department she wanted to see all NAIS-related records and documents from Jan. 1, 1997, to June 1, 2006.

According to information she received from the department, the department has about 400,000 documents on NAIS.

Bishop, who has met with department officials numerous times about her request, said that to be fair to the department, it has provided many records. But she also said that by law, citizens have a right to know what their government is doing and that the agency is required to give full disclosure unless a specific exemption applies.

In a telephone interview with Capital Press on Sept. 28, State Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge said the department has been working "very hard on this."

"We're making a huge effort to satisfy Celeste Bishop's request," he said.

The court will make a decision on the motion early this month.

Public information

Bishop is part of a group of concerned citizens that has taken on the role of informing the public about NAIS and about how it will affect them, their farms, and their livelihoods.

Bishop intends to put the documents she obtains from the department up on the website, NoNAISWA.org, where livestock owners, policy makers, and other interested parties will have access to them.

Once the motion and her declaration are scanned, they, too, will be available on that website.

Pointing out that this is a complex and controversial topic, Bishop said that people need to be knowledgeable about it and have a resource they can turn to that contains accurate information.

She also believes that it's important for department officials to realize that people want to be informed about any involvement the state might have in NAIS.

"There's a lot of miscommunication out there," she said. "People need to have accurate information about this."

Mandatory, eventually?

Bishop said one of the group's main concerns is that NAIS, currently a voluntary program, will become mandatory in Washington state.

"The department is building toward this piece by piece," she said. "It's implementing it incrementally."

She points to cooperative agreements the state is getting from various livestock organizations to implement NAIS in Washington state as an example of that.

Those who oppose NAIS fear that it will erode property rights and individual freedoms and give the government access to detailed information about their private property.

More about NAIS

According to the USDA, the goal of NAIS - originally proposed as mandatory but later changed to voluntary because of the intense controversy it sparked across the nation - is to prevent an outbreak of a foreign or domestic animal disease from spreading and inflicting devastating economic losses and serious animal and human health problems.

But in her declaration to the court, Bishop said that "while NAIS's purported goal of disease containment appears to be beneficial, the requirement for American citizens to register privately owned property for tracking and monitoring purposes has very serious implications for our privacy, rights and freedoms."

Species included in NAIS are bovine (cattle, bison), swine, sheep, goats, equine (horses, mules, donkeys), poultry, camelids (llamas, alpacas) and ratites (emus, ostriches).

Under NAIS, both the federal and state Departments of

Agriculture were to be involved in three phases: premise registration; animal identification; and animal movement reporting.

A premise is a location where animals are housed, held, or co-mingled.

The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) began voluntary premise registrations in January 2005.

During the 2007 legislative session, Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, introduced a bill that would have banned the state from participating in NAIS. At the time, he said he was responding to the concerns of many of his constituents - most of them small-scale livestock owners.

In a Sept. 28 telephone interview with Capital Press, Pearson said he believes that a mandatory form of NAIS raises borderline questions about the potential intrusion of government in people's lives.

Pearson's bill, in its original version, did not pass.

In his testimony on the bill, State Veterinarian Eldridge warned that the bill would prohibit him from continuing the voluntary NAIS program the state's Agriculture Department has in place.

He also pointed out that the previous year the Legislature passed a law that exempts all animal-identification system data from public disclosure.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: cbeecher@capitalpress.com.


Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Article comment by: Susie Stretton

Celeste Bishop is right on. National Animal ID may be "voluntary" at the federal level but the USDA is busy making cooperative agreements in all 50 states to encourage states to make it mandatory at the state leverl. She isnt the only one having trouble getting her hands on those cooperative agreements either. THey are the end run around the proper disclosure and input of the people. Small farmers cannot afford NAIS.

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Aline Bright

Thanks to Celeste for fighting for us small farmers, and 4H kids!

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: kim p.

Hopefully, little by little, this very dangerous program (NAIS) will be exposed for what it really is, then it will become history.

Our government needs a dose of reality, and the factory farms, mega processors and poorly regulated imports, who ARE the problem, must be handled as the disaster in the making they are.

Traceback? What better traceback can a consumer have than buying direct from the small farmer who raised or produced the food with care. Can we say the same for Cargil, Monsanto, Tyson and the rest....?

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Joanne Rigutto

Celeste Bishop's suit is important for several reasons, the most important of which is government accountability and transparency. In an age of bigger and more intrusive government post 9/11, transparency in government is all important in gaining the public's trust. In speaking with government officials and animal health care workers I quite often am asked the question 'Why don't they trust us?' when we speak of the movement against the National Animal ID System (NAIS).

What they don't realize is that actions such as those of WSDA in failing to serve a FOIA request like Celeste's promptly and in full, only serve to indicate that their implementation actions and strategy are such that they know or suspect that the public would object to them. These behaviors, when combined with the actions of USDA/APHIS in it's design and implementation of the NAIS foster an environment of distrust because those of us who read the government documents released by both federal and state agencies are able to see the conflicts and misinformation set out in them. We hear that NAIS is to remain voluntary at the federal level while at the same time watching USDA hand out money for cooperative agreements with public and private agencies and organizations forcing those of us who choose to keep livestock and poultry into participation in the NAIS. Examples of this are the mandatory implementation of the NAIS in both Wisconsin and Michigan and the cooperative agreement signed between USDA and 4H and the subsequent forcing of children to register property not their own in order to participate in fairs in Colorado. Another example of less than honest implementation of the NAIS is the NAIS Equine study being conducted by PENN State university which also makes use of 4H children. Premises are signed up and horses are injected with PIT tags, also know as microchips, and registered with NAIS databases. Are the participants told that they are being registered with a database that may or may not allow them to be removed? Are they informed of the steps they need to take if in fact they are able to remove themselves, their animals and their property from the system? Must they report the sale of a tagged horse and inform the buyer that the horse they are purchasing is registered with a federal or federally accessible database? I have asked these questions and have not received and answer.

These activities and more cause a great deal of distrust in government in general and in USDA and our state departments of agriculture specifically, which can do nothing more than hamper those agencies in the commission of their duties.

Celeste should be applauded for taking the time and going to the effort and expense of obtaining these documents for all to read.

Joanne Rigutto
Oregon Small Holders Alliance
Head - OSHA NAIS Working Group

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Barbara

I applaud Celeste for her sticking to her beliefs and principles for her rights in our now free society.

NAIS is about agri-business putting small farmers and livestock holders out of business or making it illegal to own just one head of livestock if you choose not to comply. There are NO exceptions.

According to the OIE, which the United States is a member/partner, the Premises ID is necessary in the case of a disease outbreak that all livestock in a minimum 6 mile radius will be found, killed, and left to decay on the owner’s property. The Premises ID also takes away your personal property rights and gives authority to government agencies to have free access whenever they deem it necessary. Registering and chipping your livestock also gives ownership of the livestock to government agencies. Your animals will now be a number in the “National Herd”. A farmer (Greg N.) is suing the MDA in Michigan because the MDA wants to do experimental research on “his” cows. The MDA contends that since Greg signed up for NAIS, MDA has the authority to do what they want. Michigan is a mandatory state. This farmer did not have a choice.

It will not matter if your livestock is healthy. Should there be a validated USDA eradicable disease 6 miles away from you, you will be included. Your daughter's pet pony, your son's pet goat, your mom's laying hens and your dad's prize bull - no exceptions. USDA will have the authority to come on your property, seize and kill your animals, and if you are lucky will give you diminished slaughter market value for them. Documentation is available on the USDA website about this. NAIS is not about protecting your livestock; it is about murdering your beloved animals.

NAIS strips Americans of 4 constitutional amendments; the 1st, 4th, 10th, and 14th. Should NAIS go through in any sate of this once great Union, we as American livestock holders loose our freedoms.

NAIS is NOT about disease control since nothing is being done to stop the infections brought to the US from: imported livestock (i.e. mad cow disease from Canada, China); unsanitary conditions at factory farms, feedlots, or slaughter houses (i.e. e-coli recalls on ground beef); or feeds that inherently spread infections (i.e. mad cow disease from the use of disposable body parts from slaughter houses). Consumers will not be protected at all with NAIS. Once the animal is slaughtered and on a consumer’s table, there is no way to trace it back.

NAIS is a boondoggle started by major meat exporters in the US. When they found they could not afford the system on their own or get compliance from producers, they engaged the USDA to try and use federal clout to initiate this plan. The USDA has since backed off making it mandatory at the federal level while it pumps millions of tax payer dollars into state and related industries to force it on livestock holders at the lower levels.

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Henwhisperer

Ah, NAIS coming out from under the bushel basket where it will not stand up to the light of day. Educate yourselves about NAIS and then ask, Mr and Mrs Consumer, what do I have that the government will want control of next?

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: karen taylor

If the NAIS is realized then no one's livestock or pets will be exempt from ID tags, and possible errors in information in judgement and slaughtered for no real reason. Example: Linda Faillace's Sheep in Northern Vermont. See her best selling book, MAD SHEEP.

NAIS was not our federal government. National is just a word used to elude to the fact of misrepresentation. NAIS is backed by the NIAA, The National Institute of Animal Agriculture. All one has to do is to check the NIAA website to see the NIAA is comprised of large scale mono-culture factory farms and chemical industries; the National Pork Council, Monsanto, Cargill Meats, Digital Angel Animal ID Tag, etc. One can devise from this list who would benefit financially from small farmers being put out of business. Monsanto is already genetically changing seeds and has patents on most. They have attempted to patent livestock. Courts ruling life can not be patented.

Within a mono-culture of livestock that are housed in cramped and inhumane living conditions, a virus or bacteria can run rampant infecting and/or killing. Many are fed antibiotics as a growth regulator and as a result of feeding feces and other mammalians in a pellet form, corn and other feed not natural to the animals digestive system. Though Great Britain has a mammalian to mammalian feed ban, last I knew The United States only had a species to species ban. Beef cattle are eating hogs in pelleted form, chicken litter, ( feather, feces and bedding), etc.

The small and backyard farmers have a very diversified breeds of livestock. Most also feed a more natural feed such as hay and grass that ruminants chambered stomach was built to digest. Many of us enjoy the taste of Heritage Breed Livestock that are allowed sun and room to roam in a non crowded manure laden environment. We do not inject our meats with additives and tenderizers as the meat bought in the store is.

Many of the new generations have no idea of the difference in taste from a store bought factory raised chicken egg compared to the flavor of a real farm egg from chickens that live a more natural life.

I as well as many feel the NAIS would be a large step in Americans losing freedom by allowing a few large companies to control the food source thus controlling us

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Sue Diederich

Tax payers and consumers, as well as farmers, ranchers and hobbyists should read the USDA Handbook on NAIS.

Here are a few questions (and comments) to remember as you read:

What protection does the NAIS program offer consumers?

(I haven't found any...)

Are there provisions to stop the illegal importation of diseased animals?

(Most of the infectious disease cases in livestock in the US have come from illegally imported individual animals.)

Who benefits from the program?

(If small herds must individually tag and track each animal, yet large feed-lots must only register a single number, those with the largest herds and the largest bank account will be the only ones who can afford to raise animals for meat production.)

Who pays for the program and its continual administration?

(The USDA states that it will pay a portion of the costs, the balance to be paid by the state and the animal owner. What does this mean for your taxes and your food bill??)

Will NAIS stop people from getting sick on the food they eat?

(NAIS does not cover the slaughterhouse nor the packing plant, where most contamination occurs.)

If farmers are now legally only stakeholders, who actually owns the livestock? Who owns the land?

(Legal definitions are important. Since the handbook will be used to enforce program rules and regulations, that makes it a legal document, with all the ramifications.)

This program is voluntary at the federal level.

Why is the USDA giving grants to states with the express purpose of making it mandatory at the state level?

How much has the USDA spent in each state to garner mandatory status?

Why are FFA and 4H now making premise registration mandatory for kids to show their animals - especially when the children do not own the farm?

Why are children being forbidden from showing their animals without a premise ID at state and certain county fairs if the program is not mandatory?

What provisions does the NAIS Handbook provide to US farmers against the problems that every other country has had with similar programs?

These are only a handful of the questions that need to be asked. Some answers are in the Handbook. Others are not.

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Article comment by: Dean A. Ayers, Director, Animals C.L.U.B.- Freedom

There are only 2 allowable legal reasons to prevent the release of government held information on a "Freedom of Information Act" request also called FOIA request.

1. Reasons of National Security.

2. Reasons of Law Enforcement use.

I do "not" see the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)documents, in any way, fitting under either of these 2 official excuses to withhold government documents and NAIS information.

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2007
Article comment by: s barackman

Good for Celeste! The USDA has been less than forthcoming about who NAIS will really help (coporate agriculture) while the small producer and pet owner of even one livestock animal will have more surveillance on them than drug dealers, illegals or convicted sex offenders.
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