A wonderful letter to use when writing your congress person:
I’m writing regarding the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). I understand that the goal of the program is to be able to track diseased livestock, so as to stop any further spread of a particular disease from the same source as the diseased livestock. On a very large scale, this sounds reasonable, as explained by Dr. Bob Hillman, a member of the Secretary’s Advisory Subcommittee on the National Animal Identification System, Texas’ state veterinarian, and head of the TAHC, Texas’ livestock and poultry health regulatory agency. I quote an an article I found by following a link from the NAIS website. The article is at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/spotlights/Texas_spotlight_1204.pdf
Dr. Hillman states, “This involves the unique identification of each head of livestock moved from its original herd. For cattle, sheep, goats, cervidae (deer) and some other species of livestock, the identification device will be an electronic ear tag, also called a radio frequency (RFID) identification device. For other species, such as swine and poultry, the number can be applied to groups of animals, if they spend their entire production life together as a group or unit.” Forms of identification mentioned on the NAIS website include micro-chips, retinal scans and DNA. Presumably, poultry and swine that are not a “group or unit” will require individual identification. The article further paraphrases Dr. Hillman thus, “When animals are sold, moved or harvested [or die], project participants will report the event to third-party data service providers by computer, fax or mail.” I understand that this “report” will need to be made within 24 hours of a qualifying “event.”
Although the plan seems feasible, and even helpful, in large-scale agri-business settings, please take the time to consider what this means to the average backyard or hobby farmer, who raises a few animals for their own food or pleasure. I am one of this group, and can tell you that making this tracking a requirement for small farmers will mean the end of hobby farms. I’ll describe a couple of scenarios to help illustrate why.
I go to the feed store to buy some chicks to raise for meat. They used to be 89 cents. Now, since the feed store is required to register each chick separately, because they’re not sold “as a unit,” how much do you think they’ll charge for a registered chick? In states where NAIS is already in place, many feed stores are no longer carrying animals. In fact, the feed store I visited today is a two-generation enterprise. The current owner/manger, who is the son of the founder, said he would quit selling feed if he had to start registering and reporting chicks and other livestock they sell, such as rabbits. How long do you think small farms will last without feed stores? Please know that large farms do not typically patronize feedstores to any extent. They buy in bulk direct from suppliers.
I have chickens that run loose on my property. Let’s say a hen comes up missing. I’m supposed to report that in 24 hours. A week later, I see her scratching around again. So I’m supposed to report that, too. I see her every few days for a couple more weeks. Each time I see her or fail to see her, I’m supposed to report it, or I’m breaking the rules (which we all suspect will become law). After three weeks or so, she marches in with several chicks. Now I’m supposed to catch all of them and haul them down to a “tagging station” to be identified, since they don’t live their entire lives “as a unit.” Being a law-abiding citizen, I do so. Three days later, a chick is missing, probably taken by a hawk or crow or cat. I report it. A few days later, another comes up missing. Report. A week later, my horse steps on a chick. Report. Then another hen disappears, probably to brood another clutch of chicks. Report. You see where I’m going with this, of course. Who is really going to pay attention to all of my reports? Who is going to pay a staffer to do so? Am I going to have to pay a staffer for several hours’ time to take care of all my reports? How much will my chickens cost at that point? Will I be eating the most expensive chickens and eggs the world has ever known, or will I give up and shop at Safeway?
Besides, does anyone honestly think that people who raise animals for their own food are going to acquiesce to this degree of oversight? Does anyone honestly think a person is going to haul a $15.00 rabbit and her new litter down to the local tagging station and pay heaven knows how much to have their rabbits identified? And at what age should they do that so that they don’t stress the doe out, causing her to cannibalize her babies? (This can happen when the babies are as old as four weeks of age. Butchering or live sale is typically done at 8 weeks.)
So, as a result of NAIS implementation, all the small farmers and hobby farmers will disappear. So what, you ask? Apart from the fact that NAIS has seriously disrupted the “pursuit of happiness” for millions of hobby farmers, and destroyed all the businesses, publications, activities, etc., that depend on hobby farmers, let’s discuss genetic diversity. There are many, very specific adaptations in livestock, which were selected for over generations. Breeds were selected that are specially adapted to perform well despite certain adverse circumstances such as excessive heat or cold or wetness or parasite loads. Or they are adapted to graze very hilly, rocky land; or they are foot-rot resistant to thrive in damp, low-lying pastures; or they have terrific mothering skills, or excellent laying rates despite cold, darkness, etc.
If small farmers and hobby farmers disappear, the genetic diversity in livestock, and it’s potential to offer solutions to problems we cannot yet foresee, will disappear as well. Why is that, you ask? Because small farmers and hobby farmers raise these specially adapted, endangered “heritage breeds.” They are therefore the guardians of the genetic diversity. Large farms and ranches, to which NAIS poses no special burden, use only a very tiny percentage of the livestock breeds available. They use only breeds that are specially adapted to perform well in high-input, high-output confinement systems. Heritage breeds do not perform well in these systems, being adapted to produce in more natural settings. With people becoming more particular about how their food is raised, is it a good idea to allow the loss of these heritage breeds?
As a final note, I must address the remarkably un-American nature of a law making it impossible for people to raise their own food. What’s next, shall we outlaw home vegetable gardens so that their pollen doesn’t contaminate the local GMO crop? Let’s give the agri-business lobby a little time, I’m sure they’ll come up with something “feasible.”
While we’re waiting, we can take our children for the last time to the petting zoo, the livestock exhibits at the fair, and the community 4-H and FFA meetings. “Last” because the animals for all of these are provided primarily by small farmers.
This whole tracking idea, as it applies to small farmers and hobby farmers, is so unrealistic, impractical and Orwellian that it seems like a bad dream. I keep hoping to wake up, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. My only other choice is to try to wake up the people who are in a position to avert this disaster. I hope this letter has at least begun to do the trick. Please, please get out there and put a stop to this before any more harm is done.