SPPA opposes National Animal Identification

The Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities opposes the USDA's proposed National Animal Identification System as excessively cumbersome, expensive and unworkable. The costs in time and money are an unwarranted burden on small flock owners.

Imposing these requirements may well be the final burden that drives many small flock owners out of business. Small integrated farms already exist on the financial edge.

The loss of small flocks will impact not only the lifestyles of the flock owners, but will also reduce poultry's genetic diversity. It will also reduce the amount of locally grown food available from producers and farmers' markets.

The huge database required to monitor every livestock animal is unprecedented, far exceeding those required for tracking humans, such as Social Security or Veterans Affairs. The SPPA is unconvinced that government agencies would be equal to the task of collecting and maintaining such records accurately. The public health can be protected and disease outbreaks traced without resorting to a system of such complexity.

SPPA supports Farm for Life, a public interest organization supporting the rights of small and subsistence farmers and consumers of organic, natural and local foods. Please contact Farm for Life at P.O. Box 501, Canton, NY 13617 or Executive Director Mary Zanoni at (315) 386-3199.

Craig Russell, Middleburg, Pa., SPPA President, is available at (570) 837-3157. Christine Heinrichs, SPPA publicity director, Madison, Wis. is available at christine.heinrichs@gmail.com, (608) 243-8178.

NAIS: This is the reason. Now is the time.

By Craig Russell, President, Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities

For the last couple of years, when I've tried to talk to people about National Animal Identification Systems, the response was disbelief. "That will never happen!" "The government wouldn't do that."

Now that it is clear, with the USDA's National Animal Identification System, they are trying to do it. I all too often hear, "You can't fight city hall." We will have to try to get the best deal we can." "There is nothing we can do about it." There aren't enough of us. We don't have the clout we once did." "It's happening worldwide. What can we do?"

Give me a break! We are American. This country is founded on the idea of fighting "City Hall." The actions of the British monarchy that spawned us pale beside those of this arrogant, incompetent, over-reaching bureaucracy that would oppress us now.

In early April, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns issued an implementation plan responding to the outrage and resistance of small livestock keepers. The emphasis remained on food animals, with much less required of non-food animal keepers. This encouraging shift indicates that by organizing and creating alliances with other small stock keepers, we can influence the policies that govern us.

This is the time to act like Americans. Not to go hat in hand pleading for special favors or trying to cut the best deal we can for our special interest crap. Now is the time to organize and fight, not compromise. We need to reach out to others affected by this nonsense and help roll it back. Now is the time to stand for freedom. When will we be stronger? Small-scale livestock keepers of all kinds and rural folks in general will suffer from this mindless bureaucracy. The fanciers and show people, backyarders and preservationists must come together and make common cause with all small scale keepers of livestock.

Right now, the bureaucracies of the world are mindlessly following one another into a growing spiral of regulation that is often devoid of any rational thought.

The citizens need to holler STOP!

Animal identification has its merits. A reasonable system would not only facilitate quick responses to disease outbreaks but might also reduce thefts, or at least improve the chances of recovery of stolen stock. The original voluntary premise identification plan sounded reasonable and could have been beneficial. The costs in time and money of the present mandatory plan are an unwarranted burden on small-scale livestock keepers of all kinds. Arguments that this excessively cumbersome, expensive and perhaps unworkable program will improve our security are spurious at best.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the USDA has attempted to engineer this unwarranted and unprecedented expansion of their powers both by keeping it below the public's radar and by exaggerating and misrepresenting the risks of avian influenza, anthrax and mad cow disease.

This is about empire building and helping their friends, not about national security or the safety of our food.

If the USDA was seriously concerned about national security and food safety, they would be promoting diversified production and trying to maximize local consumption. Policies that support those goals have been completely foreign to the department for at least 40 years.

NAIS is not only a sham that will not accomplish its stated goals. It will also play havoc with our constitutional rights. Some people of faith, including many Amish and Mennonite sects as well as some other Christians and people of other religions, would be forced to choose between the tenets of their faith and the law of the land. Well, there goes the First Amendment.

NAIS also proposes surveillance of any property where even a single animal of a livestock species is kept. This surveillance of innocent citizens who have done nothing more than own an animal takes care of the Fourth Amendment.

The system's forced registration in a permanent government database of citizens' homes, farms and animals does it for the Fifth and probably the Fourteenth. Talk about over-reaching: 30 percent of the Bill of Rights and one more amendment for good measure. It is time to say NO!

My grandfather used to like to say that those who can, do; those who can't, teach, and those who can't get a job teaching go to work for the government. It always amused me, but I didn't know how close to the truth he was. There are some very good people in the bureaucracy. But in many cases, we are not dealing with the sharpest knives in the drawer, which may go along way to explaining NAIS.

Our present system for tracking disease outbreaks works pretty well. If these folks were using common sense and actually trying to improve our safety, they would be concentrating on increased testing after livestock enters the food chain, not creating a cumbersome, intrusive and punitive system that will discourage small-scale livestock keeping. Additional pressures that accelerate the decline in small-scale keepers are likely to lead to reduced genetic diversity and a marginal increase in the kind of industrial food production that is so vulnerable to the health problems NAIS is claimed to prevent.

The end result is not the only problem. The manner in which NAIS was developed is suspect. In fact, a reasonable person has to fear that the way this agency does business is either flawed or corrupted generally. When the USDA was originally formulating the policy, its representatives met not with a cross-section of the people to be regulated, but with groups representing industrial agriculture and computer manufacturing animal identification systems. The latter group, to everyone's surprise, suggested a massive animal identification system. But we can all be sure this had nothing to do with their desire to sell systems.

Finally, the USDA did set up working groups for each species or groups of species to work out the details on how the policy would be implemented. While they have shown some willingness to make it less onerous to the working groups, this late outreach appeared more effective in giving the USDA political cover and tying groups like the SPPA to their agenda. They either need a better agenda or a lot more rope.

Not only has USDA not yet make a serious attempt to alert the regulated community, let alone the general public, to NAIS, they did not publicize the comment period until it was essentially over.

NAIS isn't the only questionable action that can be laid at the USDA's feet. Their handling of Avian Influenza is a classic case of stupidity or corruption.

The USDA and their flunkies at the state agencies have become so committed to industrial production of poultry that they are incapable or unwilling to make realistic judgments of that industry and the threats it both faces and produces.

The dramatic increases in AI outbreaks over the last 20 years have not been associated with increases in backyard poultry keeping. They follow directly the enormous growth of large, industrial poultry operations worldwide. Small flocks have rarely been involved. Usually such outbreaks have been traced to nearby commercial operations, not the other way around.

Yet the USDA has aided the industry in giving the impression that this is a backyard, small flock and migratory bird problem. The Virginia Department of Agriculture recently showed a training film making that claim, despite the fact that the last major U.S. outbreak, centered in Virginia, did not involve any small flocks.

Yet a gullible media typically broadcasts images of men in white biosecurity suits chasing chickens in rural villages or flocks of wild bird in reports about the spread of AI. The USDA and other regulators seem to help the industry promote this false image of what is happening. Unless you have followed this story very closely, you may not be aware that most of the people who have died of Avian Influenza were not small flock keepers, but worked in industrial poultry houses or were engaged in other high-risk practices.

AI is nothing new, but the Highly Pathogenic strains that have decimated industrial poultry houses and killed people over the last eight years are unprecedented. They are also a product of industrial poultry operations.

There is a myth that confinement provides biosecurity. Viruses can enter such operations by a variety of routes, including dust and moisture particles. Once a few birds are infected, the spread is rapid and the enormous quantity of aerosol virus produced can overcome the immune systems of people and other species not normally affected by AI.

It seems outrageous, but the big poultry companies are actually trying to use AI to do away with the competition. Margaret Say, Southeast Asian director of the US Poultry and Egg Export Council said, "We cannot control migratory birds but we can surely work hard to close down as many backyard farms as possible."

That kind of statement makes NAIS understandable. Over time, bureaucracies often come to serve the regulated.

If voluntary premise ID seemed reasonable, the USDA has not handled it in such a fashion. People responding to surveys were dumped into the database without knowing they had "volunteered." Other "volunteers" came from breed registries without their permission. This is clearly an agency out of control.

I hope you will join the SPPA in demanding an end to NAIS and resignation or firing of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns.

Join us in demanding an investigation of how the department does business. If the behavior of some in the USDA has not been illegal, it certainly has been unethical and immoral. If laws or guidelines have been violated, those responsible should be prosecuted or disciplined. If there were not guidelines, the agency needs to adopt some to prevent this kind of outrage in the future.

The USDA's willingness to reduce regulation of small stock is encouraging, but we must continue our vigilance and activism.

Write your Senator and Representative. Write to the President. Write to the USDA and demand action now.

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