Food Issues - National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
"If people let the government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as the souls who live under tyranny." -- Thomas Jefferson, 1778
Update: A recent announcement implied that USDA is giving up on NAIS however it was immediately followed up by statements that they were simply going to re-align it and work with the states to implement a better process. In my opinion the only good NAIS program is a dead NAIS program and many small farmers see it the same way.
Do you want to choose where your food comes from and how it was raised? If so, please read on.
I have been reluctant to post on this subject because I felt that politics did not have a place on this web site. But recent developments have caused me to reconsider. I feel it's essential for everyone to be educated on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) proposal so they can judge it and make up their own minds as to whether it should be implemented. I am strongly opposed to it. But I will try to layout the facts and provide links to further material in as unbiased a manner as possible.
What is NAIS?
NAIS is a new regulation the USDA is trying to implement that says anyone who owns even just one animal (excepting cats and dogs) has to do the following:
- Register their "premise" (home, farm, stable) in a national database and pay an annual fee. The amount of the fee has not yet been specified. Once in this database the property can never be released even if in the future you own no animals. And you pay the fee even if you own no animals. Anyone who buys your property must continue to pay the fee.
- Agree to allow the USDA to enter your "premise" at any time to "inspect" your animals and confiscate them if they determine it necessary. All without warrant.
- Place an id tag (ear tag or RFID id) on each individual animal you own and register that animal in a national database.
- Report to the national database every significant event in each individual animal's life including: birth, anytime it leaves the "premise" including vet visits, shows, exhibits, and trail rides, anytime it arrives at a vet office, show, exhibit, organized trail ride (this will actually be done for you by the event organizer who now must report all animals participating), vet appointments on your property (actually your vet will have to do this and rat on you if s/he sees an animal that is not identified in the DB), death
- In addition to the above requirements for animal owners, those involved in the animal industry such as your vet, hay dealer, and feed store are going to have to report the "premises" they do business with - and of course that means reporting on those they do business with who don't have an ID.
The USDA will tell you that NAIS is necessary to control animal diseases such as mad cow disease (BSE), foot and mouth disease, scrapies, and equine infectious anemia (EIA). But the facts are:
Mad Cow Disease or BSE
- There have been three cases of mad cow disease in the United States. One was a Washington state cow that had been imported from Canada. Another was a Texas born cow and the third was an Alabama cow.
- USDA's own analysis concluded that the prevalence of mad cow disease is extremely low. Their analysis states there are probably four to seven undetected cases of the disease in the United States.
- Mad cow disease can be eliminated by proper feeding practices. Don't feed sheep, pig, and cow parts to cows and the disease will be eliminated. Feeding these rendered animal products to cows is now illegal.
- Random beef carcasses are tested in slaughter facilities to prevent infected beef from entering the food supply.
- In July 2006 the USDA reduced it's testing for mad cow disease in slaughter facilities by 90% Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns explained this reduction by saying: "It's time that our surveillance efforts reflect what we now know is a very, very low level of BSE in the United States. There is no significant BSE problem in the United States, and after all of this surveillance, I am able to say there never was."
- Prior to July/Aug 2006, 1,000 tests for mad cow disease were conducted in slaughter plants every day representing approximately 1% of the cattle slaughtered. The cost was $1M per week.
- After August 2006 the level of testing was 110 tests a day.
- Consumer groups advocate 100% testing of beef. They estimate the cost to be between $30 - $50 per cow.
- European standards require testing only of animals over 30 months of age because age is associated with infection. In the US this is approximately 10 million cows. The additional cost would add an estimated 10 cents a pound to the price of beef.
- In response to the request for 100% testing Mr. Johanns' said that the real key to food safety was removing at slaughter the cattle parts known to carry mad cow disease.
- Japan is the largest US beef importer and they have demanded that all beef be tested. Keith Collins, USDA's Chief Economist, told the Senate Appropriations committee that the USDA considers Japan's demands "unreasonable".
- One beef producer, Creekstone Farms, wants to test 100% of their beef carcasses in their own testing lab and at their own cost to meet consumer requests. The USDA has been fighting them in court to prevent them from testing. The USDA contends their testing of 1% of cattle slaughtered is adequate to protect consumers from BSE. The USDA has not stated their motives for denying an independent company from going above and beyond the current required testing in order to satisfy their customers.
Foot and Mouth Disease
- There has not been an incidence of Foot and Mouth in the US in over 50 years.
- Foot and Mouth is no threat to people.
- Foot and Mouth is not a particularly deadly disease to animals either. The mortality is very low. It causes mostly economic losses due to treatment and slower growth.
- During the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK not a single person was infected or harmed by the disease (no threat to people). But 6.5 million animals were killed, most of them healthy, because they were near the infected farms. The devastation to family farms caused by the depopulation of the livestock and, in some cases, burning of barns and infrastructure to dispose of the bodies caused 80 farmers to commit suicide.
- Scrapie is a degenerative and eventually fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of sheep and goats. Its like mad cow disease in cattle.
- There is currently a voluntary scrapies program that has made great headway in eliminating this disease in the US. Sheep in this program are inspected and flocks certified scrapies free.
- Equine Infectious Anemia is an infectious and potentially fatal virus disease of horses.
- EIA poses no threat to people.
- EIA can be tested for by the Coggins test. Most states require a negative Coggins test prior to bringing horses in and many boarding stables also require a negative Coggins before accepting boarders.
- Known positive horses are isolated or euthenized.
What the USDA is not telling you about NAIS is:
- Despite having launched this massive program the USDA still has NO IDEA how much it will cost. But they will say that the costs will be born by the animal owners.
- Some NAIS opponents estimate the cost to be 3 to 5 times the cost of the National Census every year.
- The cost of the 2000 National Census in the United States is estimated to be $4.5 BILLION. That makes the estimated cost of NAIS to be $13.5 to $22.5 BILLION every year.
- If you compare the cost of testing every slaughtered cow over 30 months of age in the US - $500 Million - with the low end estimated cost of tracking every animal's movement - $13.5 Billion - it becomes pretty obvious that we should be testing beef instead of tracking animals. When you add to it that testing beef WOULD keep mad cow infected beef out of the food supply while tracking animals DOES NOTHING toward keeping mad cow infected beef out of the food supply then the choice becomes really clear! Let's get real - what does tracking horses back and forth from a horse show have to do with mad cow disease?
- Large "confinement" producers will be allowed to provide one ID for a large herd or flock rather than identify each individual animal. While small farmers raising animals under more natural conditions will be required to tag and track each animal. Many small farmers believe this will put them out of business. Many believe the USDA and their factory farm producers intend this to be another consequence of the program.
When you get right down to it the REAL reason for NAIS is:
- The NAIS program is being required by foreign trade agreements with countries that buy our beef and pork.
- From the http://nonais.org/ web site: "The reality is NAIS is about profits for large factory farm meat exporters." That means little Jenny has to record every event in the life of her 4H chicken just so a big beef conglomerate can sell beef to Japan. Let the big beef conglomerate track their animals and leave little Jenny alone!
Animals affected that have to be ID'd and tracked:
- Horses and burros
- Llamas (and others)
- Deer (all domestic cervids)
- Peafowl, guinea fowl, pheasants, quail, etc
- Fish (trout, other stockpond fish)
All this sounds Orwellian when you first hear about it. And many people have said "We would never implement something like that in the US!" But since the USDA failed to push this through at the National level they are now trying to push it through state by state. Already Wisconsin and a couple other states have implemented it. There have been incidents where people have been arrested for having six cows and refusing to comply. The Colorado State Fair recently denied letting 4H kids show and sell their animals unless they had a premise ID. NAIS is being forced upon farmers and animals lovers without legislative consideration or fair debate.
Our fundamental Constitutional rights that are violated by this program are not even being considered. The USDA is recklessly plunging ahead with this program without even doing a cost/benefit analysis - all the while admitting they have no idea what the costs would be. Security and privacy issues are being down played with over simplified plans like having the database be managed by the "private sector".
The USDA is talking out of both sides of their mouth when they say they need NAIS to track disease and it can be managed. They are ALSO saying it is not necessary to test all slaughtered cattle because the risk of mad cow is so low. And they are saying they are not going to require labeling of cloned meat because they "cannot possibly track" all the cloned animals that enter the food supply. Its ridiculous - either disease is a problem or its not. Either tracking the millions upon millions of animals in the US is feasible or its not. Which is it?
The argument on cloned meat makes it even more clear to me the USDA is implementing NAIS for its big factory farm producers. NAIS would NOT require those producers to track each animal (they get to have one ID and track a whole herd) - hence cloned animals would not be identifiable. Why would you even consider putting a program like NAIS in place and then not track (and label) the animals most "questionable" in the minds of consumers?