An eager reader draws my attention to the National Animal Identification System, a proposal to tag all of America's livestock to prevent diseases like mad cow. The proposed USDA program has been meeting with nearly unanimous disapproval from ranchers at USDA listening sessions this month. At the Rapid City meeting last week, Newcastle, Wyoming, rancher Donley Darnell said the program won't do what's intended: "USDA’s assertions that NAIS will provide benefits for animal health are not supported, and actually contradict basic scientific principles. Disease must be addressed on a species-specific basis, with an understanding of the causes of the different diseases and the ways the diseases are transmitted."
Alan Guebert at the Mitchell Daily Republic notes that NAIS won't stop disease, but only track it after the fact... and make it easier to sue the ranchers who raised the bad beef.
State Representative Betty Olson said the cost of the radio frequency ID tags NAIS would use could put smaller producers out of business. Those costs would also include access fees for privately run databases and the cost of replacing independent tagging systems that ranchers have already adopted but which wouldn't comply with the requirements of the new program.
If you think this program sounds like a way for the big factory farms to gain an advantage over the independent operators, you're right. Here's another advantage that the big industry lobbyists want: big feedlots would get to follow different rules. According to Daily Yonder's Richard Oswald, the producers with thousands of cows crammed into CAFOs (exactly the conditions that foster more disease) don't have to identify individual animals; one ID number can cover the entire lot. Small operators and free-rangers have to have a unique tag for each animal. So if I get this, my neighbor who has maybe a hundred head moseying about his pasture could pay more for tagging their cattle than Rick Millner up in Veblen, who crowds 12,000-some head (and sometimes a couple dozen illegal immigrant employees) onto two feedlots.
Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro to the rescue, maybe: DeLauro, who chairs the House Ag, Rural Development, and FDA appropriations subcommittee, has stripped funding for NAIS from the 2010 spending bill, saying she wants USDA to carry out its listening sessions first and put together a clear plan on how to make such a system work. (Note: DeLauro is a Democrat, cutting funding for a government program that interferes with the free market.) The program's not dead, but it's getting some necessary attention.
President Obama's Secretary of Agriculture and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack asked for the extra listening sessions to get input from livestock producers, and he's getting more than an earful. Let's hope he really listens and turns the USDA's attention to real solutions that don't favor the corporate agenda.
Gee, none of this would be an issue if we had more small farmers, raised more grass-fed livestock, and bought more food locally, would it?
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