6/11/2009 7:47:00 AM
Jolley: Mr. Vilsack, Were You Listening?
It was billed as a multi-city listening tour, announced May 15 by USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. He must have been laboring under a delusion if he thought it would lead to a general consensus and an acceptance of NAIS.
It has lead to a general consensus, though. In a word or two NO NAIS! That was the label on several hundred people attending the listening session in Jefferson City, Missouri. It was the message pounded home again and again by every speaker except one. Defending NAIS was Dr. David Hobson of the USDA’s vet services. He said hello and ducked.
His “hello” was a statement that “This session is to listen to you. We all play a role in food safety. To do that we need healthy animals. We need this program to identify diseased animals and eradicate disease.”
The crowd wasn’t buying it.
There were so many speakers that the USDA personnel on hand extended the morning session by an hour to accommodate them. That lone pro-NAIS speaker? A hog farmer, obviously intimidated by the mood of the room, spoke warily in a shaky voice and fled the premises for the safety of the parking lot amid catcalls from the floor before he was finished with his prepared statement.
Two highway patrol officers sat in the corner of the room as the session began, ready to quell any outbreaks but obviously outmanned and hoping for a peaceful day at the Truman Hotel and Conference Center. They were watching about 240 people sitting at tables and another 80 or so sitting at the back of the room in chairs brought in to handle the overflow. Another dozen were standing in the hall and three times that many were demonstrating outside, refusing to enter the building.
The room was filled with people who ran small farms and ranches; husbands, wives and children from Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Finding the meeting room was a labyrinthine affair, like the 15 year journey toward NAIS. It required going down a series of stairs and a few hallways narrow enough that they should have been marked with “one way” signs and maybe that was the message Vilsack was trying to deliver.
He didn’t attend the session, of course. His appearance was taped, a wise decision considering the mood of the crowd. If all politics is organization, something the Obama administration proved beyond a doubt, Vilsack has been seriously out-organized by the likes of R-CALF, MissouriansagainstNAIS.com, and NAISstinks.com. They delivered and the pro-NAIS crowd was almost completely missing.
The speeches had common themes: We don’t trust the feds — Food Safety? It’s a processing issue, not an animal ag issue — the cost is to high for the information it delivers — it delivers an unfair advantage to the packer – No NAIS.
A standing ovation was provoked by a speaker who proclaimed at the top of his voice, “No NAIS, no way, no how, not now, not ever!”
Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center also brought the crowd to its feet when she declared NAIS to be “An unknown, unfair, ineffective, corporate-driven program.”
Mr. Vilsack, if you were listening to this one, the score was about 60 to 1 against. No one seemed to want to find a mutually acceptable center point. Most were willing to openly defy any attempt to make it a requirement, voluntary was only marginally agreeable. Time to punt.