May 24, 2024

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N.A.I.S. R.I.P?

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


I’ve been grousing about NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, since 2006, when we got a letter from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture inviting us to put radio frequency ID tags our poultry so the government could come and slaughter them if someone, somewhere, came down with a case of bird flu.

That’s not exactly what the letter said, but neither did it sound like the ag department was offering us a year’s supply of organic layer pellets in return for ratting out our chickens – not that I’m sure that would have turned us around, mind you. We’re loyal to our flock, and they are loyal to us.

So we told Mass Agriculture “thanks, but no thanks,” and thought that was the end of it.

Not so much. Recently it’s been sounding as though the feds are serious about making this idiotic, anti-small farm program mandatory. If you don’t know what’s wrong with NAIS, here‘s the best short version I’ve seen.

Now it’s getting to look like NAIS is, although not dead yet, in suspended animation, like those SciFi people who get themselves frozen so they can be thawed in another century and see how their descendents turn out.

Running the cryonics machine is Rep. Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. Apparently she’s been listening in on agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack’s “listening sessions” road show, at which the vast majority of speakers are opposed to the program — not the least because small farmers would have to tag each animal individually, while those with a thousand head of cattle on a CAFO lot need only one tag number for the whole sorry mess of them.

What’s remarkable about this is that DeLauro’s district is less than 4 percent rural. It’s not as if she needs the votes of the 1,000 or so people wearing red NO NAIS buttons who showed up at the USDA sessions. It’s vastly unlikely even one of those folks was from Connecticut, and DeLauro’s standing in her district, whose hub is New Haven, is so solid it wouldn’t have mattered if a hundred had shown up.

Despite the fact that her district is highly conservative, DeLauro has voted with Congressional Democrats in 98.2 percent of 341 votes. She’s a staunch supporter of single-payer health insurance. Still, her district has sent her back to Washington nine times since she won the seat in 1990, last year with 75 percent of the vote.

In marking up the 2010 Agriculture appropriations bill, DeLauro cut the $14.5 million slated for animal identification, saying in a news release:

The bill eliminates funding for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). After receiving $142 million in funding since fiscal year 2004, APHIS has yet to put into operation an effective system that would provide needed animal health and livestock market benefits. USDA is currently conducting a public listening tour around the country for several months to hear from stakeholders. Until USDA finishes its listening sessions and provides details as to how it will implement an effective ID system, continued investments into the current NAIS are unwarranted.

Last year, USDA increased NAIS registrations by only 3 percent, despite getting $14.2 million to run the program. According to AgWeek,

“At this rate,” DeLauro said, “it will take USDA 12 years to register all the animal premises in the country.”

DeLauro […] noted that it took Canada only two years to register all its premises. DeLauro told reporters […] that she favors a mandatory animal identification system because she thinks it would provide assurance against economic calamity and protect our export markets.

But DeLauro said she also thinks USDA has mismanaged the program and wasted money. “We have no effective system in place,” DeLauro said.

DeLauro offered to take a second look at the issue after USDA finishes a nationwide set of listening sessions at which stakeholders are supposed to present their views. Congress needs to finish the bill by October. It’s possible that USDA might have a clearer idea of where animal identification is headed by the time the Senate takes up the bill later this summer.

Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over til it’s over,” and that’s as true of NAIS as it is of baseball. But given USDA’s NAIS performance to date and the outpouring of negative comments at their public sessions, maybe the agency will rethink just who should be tagging their livestock. It’s not the small farmers who let loose contaminated meat upon the land. It’s the factory farms.

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