A flurry of news surrounded the announcement by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack that the controversial National Animal Identification System (NAIS) would be scrapped. The measure met stiff resistance from homesteaders, small farmers, organic growers, and raw milk and whole foods advocates. The problem is, the news is wrong. The NAIS isn’t being scrapped, it’s just being shelved “pending more review.”
There is a mixture of good and bad news in the USDA’s decision. The decision was likely not made to benefit the small producer or the homesteader. Rather, it was probably made in order to take them out of the debate so that the tracking system could go through.
The original NAIS plan would have required onerous costs on small agricultural producers – whether they were selling product or not – and distinctly favored the large agricultural conglomerates, who could easily afford the new rules. Rules which applied differently to them.
In the NAIS, each animal on a farm would require a tracking number and 48-hour reporting of its whereabouts and condition. This applied to everything from backyard poultry to cattle herds in the hundreds of thousands. The big difference was that large (industrial) livestock herds could be tracked as a single unit, whereas small homestead or farm herds had to be tracked as individual animals.
Besides the economic reasoning, however, whole foods advocates like Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance say that the system itself is a waste of taxpayer’s money. Tracking the animals does nothing but allow for finding the source after the fact, but nothing to prevent anything up front. The whole excuse for the NAIS was to be able to prevent diseases like mad cow from spreading.
“USDA’s claim that we need 48-hour traceback of all animal movements is not supported by scientific studies or logic. The agency should focus on high risk situations, namely the factory farms. The agency should also look at the specific diseases of concern and how they are spread. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.”5
Now, any animal that does not cross state lines upon its sale is not required to be tracked. This eliminates most small farms, local sellers, and homesteaders out of the equation, which would, in turn, give them no reason to combat the USDA’s plans for a future NAIS.
However, it will still effect many of us in the whole foods and organic lifestyle movements. Anyone who has homesteaded realizes that you cannot produce everything you need all on your own. You need neighbors with whom you can barter and do business. A small farmer on the eastern edge of Wyoming, for instance, may need chicks to replenish his hen house after an unfortunate fox attack. He is as likely to go into Nebraska, next door, as anywhere else. Except now he`s crossed state lines, so those chicks must be registered with NAIS.
That is only one example and assumes that the USDA will not expand the reach of its program once it’s in place. Further, it’s obvious that the USDA’s plan to track animals will do nothing to prevent disease and only allow them to point the finger to lay blame when an outbreak occurs.
The real problem here are the huge, commercial meat producers who handle their cattle as if they were merely cogs in the wheel at a factory. This industrial agriculture means huge stockyards with thousands of pens holding hundreds upon hundreds of animals packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, wallowing in their own filth. This is a disease bomb just waiting to explode onto the market.
The USDA’s plan for NAIS is not to scuttle the project, but only to change it and re-introduce the same idea in a couple of years. This does nothing to prevent disease and everything to cater to the huge agricultural conglomerates and industrial meat producers.
All while making life more difficult, even impossible, for the small farmer and homesteader.
1 – USDA Plans to Drop Program to Trace Livestock, William Neuman, New York Times, Feb. 5, 2010
2 – USDA Announces New Framework for Animal Disease Traceability, USDA, Feb. 5, 2010
3 – Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Weighs in on NAIAS, Hartke Is Online, June8, 2009
4 – Q&A: New Animal Disease Traceability Framework, USDA APHIS, February 2010
5 – Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Weighs in on NAIAS, Hartke Is Online, June 8, 2009