Henry Lamb
June 21, 2009
USDA: Can you hear me now?
By Henry Lamb

For the last several weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been conducting "listening sessions" in a dozen cities across the country. The purpose of these sessions was to find ways to make the proposed National Animal Identification System acceptable to the people who own livestock.

NAIS, as the program is widely known, was announced in 2005. The announced schedule required all livestock owners to register their premises with the USDA before 2007; tag every livestock animal with an electronic tag (or implant) by 2008; and, by January 2009, report within 24 hours, to the federal government, every time a tagged animal moved off the birth premises. Within a year, it was clear that the people were simply not going to comply, so, in 2006, the USDA announced that the program would, henceforth, be voluntary.

As of January, 2009, USDA reported that only about 35% of livestock owners have registered their premises. But this number is measured against those premises where at least $1000 profit is reported from farm activities. It does not include the hundreds of thousands of small family operations that house a few chickens, a cow, or hog, or goat, or sheep, or any of the 29 species named in the NAIS. When these people are considered, an incredibly small percentage of the people affected by the program have registered.

The listening sessions were designed to force animal owners to listen to a one-hour presentation about the benefits of NAIS. Then, two hours were to be devoted to three-minute speeches from attendees whose tickets were drawn at random. Then, after a lunch break, attendees were to be divided into groups where a trained facilitator was supposed to develop "consensus" around seven specific questions.

The best-laid plans of mice and the USDA often go awry. The people were having none of it. After the first meeting in Pennsylvania, the opening presentation was forgotten. The people wanted to speak, and speak they did. In South Dakota, hundreds of people showed up. Of those chosen to speak, the people who supported NAIS could be counted on one hand; all the rest spoke strongly against the program. Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF-USA told the USDA that the NAIS "is the culmination of over ten years of aggressive efforts by the USDA to destroy the very foundation of U.S. livestock."

In Missouri, Rhonda Perry, representing the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said that NAIS was a proposed solution in search of a problem. If the USDA were really interested in livestock producers, consumers and animal health, she said, they would look where problems are known to exist. She said the millions of pounds of meat recalled from processing plants is not the fault of independent producers. She said the USDA continues to allow imports from countries with known disease problems. "This is not the fault of small family farmers," she said. "The large industrial feeding operations that cause health and environmental concerns are not the fault of independent livestock producers," she told the applauding crowd.

The NAIS allows industrial chicken producers, for example, to tag a "batch" of chickens with a single number, regardless of the number of chickens in the batch. The family farmer, on the other hand, must catch and tag each chicken, and report to the government within 24 hours should the chicken escape from the yard or get eaten by a fox or by the family.

In Texas, Judith McGeary, Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, told the USDA that their recently released cost-benefit study had "more holes than a block of Swiss cheese." She also delivered a box containing more than 2000 pages of signatures from livestock producers who say "NO!" to NAIS.

From one end of the country to the other, the message was clear and unmistakable: NO NAIS! The afternoon break-out sessions designed to build consensus around seven questions, turned into a non-stop barrage of reasons why NAIS will never be accepted. Doreen Hannes, a small farmer in Missouri, drew wild applause when she vowed that she would never comply. "I'll die before I comply," she declared before the cheering Missouri crowd.

By every count, more than 90% of the people who were allowed to speak at the listening sessions, spoke against the NAIS.

It is abundantly clear that the people who will be governed by the NAIS, do not consent to the proposed law. Legitimate government is empowered by the consent of the governed; power imposed by the government without the consent of the governed is tyranny.

The only question that remains is what the USDA will do next. Funding for NAIS has been removed from the agriculture appropriation bill because NAIS has not been implemented. The USDA can either abandon its NAIS aspirations, or, in order to get funding, it can disregard the loudly expressed will of the people and mandate participation in the NAIS.

Galen Borntrager, a young Iowa farmer put it quite well when he told the USDA in Missouri, "Let this message go out from this meeting: no NAIS, no way, no how, not in this country, not under any circumstance, not today, not tomorrow, not ever!"

USDA: Can you hear me now?

© Henry Lamb

 

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