by Darol Dickinson
Nearly 5 years ago I attended my first county NAIS listening session. I heard a detailed presentation by a professionally trained USDA state director. About 40 people crowded into a small room in a government building during the dark of an early winter evening. I knew the state NAIS director and had been in an Ohio Cattlemen’s Assn. policy committee meeting with him. I had a high respect and appreciation for his fairness, knowledge and livestock experience.
The state Farm Bureau director was present and assured everyone NAIS was the right thing to do.
As the NAIS program was laboriously presented, the hair bristled on my neck like a Michael Vick dog challenged by a common alley cat. In respect for the presenter, I did not jump to my feet and scream fowl play. I listened until his whole load of hay was forked to the herd.
Over a dozen points were eloquently presented. You could hear a pin drop in a room full of hard working Ohio livestock people who weren’t easily snookered.
We were told, NAIS would not be a choice. It was going to happen. NAIS would create increased livestock profit for those who promptly enrolled. Those who did not enroll would suffer losses–not the fault of USDA. We were duly warned! Without NAIS the export markets would promptly dry up for US livestock producers. If anthrax disease was introduced to the US livestock industry by terrorist, it would destroy all US agriculture. If foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) was introduced by terrorist it would engulf whole states overnight and wipe out the livestock industry. Then he said the Mad Cow media event in Washington state was the explosive reason NAIS was created by USDA — to protect all concerned.
After the meeting the largest commercial cattle producer in the county signed up his premises. He had several ranches leased so he enrolled multiple premises. Another dozen people were quickly enrolled.
Most, either in western hats or bibbed overalls knew the successful USDA history. Attendees had the ultimate respect for USDA’s eradication of bangs disease, screw worms, and numerous other livestock pearls including scabies and FMD. No country had ever attacked and successfully cleaned up livestock diseases like the USA. This country has the most disease free livestock in the world. There was a great respect for USDA’s efforts and an earned position of world honor.
The following day I called the resident director at Texas A & M Research and Extension Center in Uvalde, Texas. (Many livestock diseases had hovered near the Mexican boarder.) I was told yes, that anthrax was a problem but for eighty cents per dose stock could be vaccinated and there would be no losses. It was done all the time in that area. I was also told that FMD was eliminated in 1929 and was not in the US or Mexico at this time. FMD would not kill normal healthy cattle and the meat was edible without harm to people. A vaccine is also available for FMD, if any people are concerned.
With some shocking research, the Mad Cow event was not the origin of NAIS. Meetings behind closed doors to plan NAIS had previously happened for over a dozen years. Unpublicized meetings prior to 1994 included Neil Hammerschmidt, now with APHIS, Ken Olson of American Farm Bureau, Beth Lautner with the National Pork Producers Council, John Weimers, with USDA, Chuck Sattler with the National Assn. of Animal Breeders, Glen Slack of the Livestock Conservation Institute, David Nolan of Cargill, and several tag companies were represented including Glenn Fisher of Allflex. Like hungry lions fighting over fresh kill, NAIS was carefully planned many years prior to the Mad Cow event and an equal number of years before the British FMD fiasco.
NAIS was planned without a valid cause, then, as disease was found; disease became the cause.
NAIS is a hard sell. Congress has approved nearly $150,000,000 to promote and enroll livestock breeders. Cooperative agreement grants have been given to state departments of agriculture, universities, tribes, livestock breed associations and a cast of thousands licensed or funded by USDA. Never in history has an unpopular government program been funded so strong with only minuscule acceptance. As of today less than 10% of all livestock producers have surrendered to NAIS premises enrollment.
One year ago, Mike Johanns gave up. After spending nearly 3 years promoting NAIS, the Bush Sec. of Agriculture wrote his boss a letter of resignation, and dropped it in the mail box on his way to the parking lot. No two week or one month courtesy notice was given. He evaporated out of Washington DC with the same dignity a common thug would offer the owner of a low stakes cock fight ring.
From USDA’s world respect in disease eradication, it is now totally changing to a sad ending of political bribery, distrust, and a cowering staff of “bought” white shirted degrees.
USDA planned to grasp every livestock producer by 2008. It started with listening sessions in every state. Now the big guns have rolled out meetings all over the nation. The rural peasants are allowed to assert their three minute views for refusing to enroll in NAIS. Regional town hall type meetings are staffed with seasoned “listeners” such as Hammerschmidt, Dicks, and Weimers. A “low-tech” video of Sec of Agruculture Tom Vilsack is used to warm up a hardened crowd.
As USDA’s respect dwindles, cowboys, consumers, and all types of food producers are participating in the national “mud-throwing” sessions. The recent Colorado session gave USDA “listeners” an atmosphere less friendly than a Birney Madoff investor’s meeting.
As USDA team members and security guards entered the Colorado meeting hall cattle trailers, angry ranchers and signs of protest decorated the area. Quite conspicuous were the hangman’s nooses with signs–"FREE ROPES FOR USDA NAIS OFFICIALS! NO NAIS! HEY USDA–"DON’T TREAD ON ME!
Police, ordered by USDA, demanded all hangman’s nooses be removed from the property –"it was threatening violence." One law enforcer said he thought the nooses were rather humorous, considering the cause.
As federales and farmers mumbled into the trouncing room, each person was given a real set of amputated rattlers from a Colorado rattle snake. People of the land were as serious as a snake bite about ending all plans of mandatory NAIS. As occasional rattling sounds were numerous, it made an eerie sound like no other listening session in history. The nooses were serious, as were the venomous steel eyed ranchers defending their livelihoods.
The Colorado spirit became more hostile. Over 90% spoke against NAIS, the same as previous sessions. Those speaking for NAIS were connected in every case by generous grants from USDA for the sole purpose of coercing enrollments.
Chuck Sylvester, past CEO of the huge National Western Stock Show, was inflamed because Colorado State University, and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (recipients of $4,746,993 of NAIS grant money) had forced youth exhibitors at the Colorado State Fair to enroll their parent’s ranches in NAIS. He compared USDA to child molesters and pedophiles. He closed with a stern, “MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOULS!”
With dozens of red faced presenters the tone changed from the problem of NAIS to the cause of NAIS–USDA itself. Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate said, “I think we need to have a cleansing at USDA and it has to go deep, and the disease we need cleansing from USDA is corporate control–people who have gotten into USDA. We need to assess whether USDA has done their job? If USDA was to protect the food system –you are FIRED! If USDA is supposed to make sure family farmers have access to local markets, and the people who they know–you are also FIRED!”
The sessions originally designed to help USDA fine tune NAIS, completely backfired. The flaws are going beyond NAIS to the inner bowels of USDA. Quotes like, “We need to go to Washington with our pitch forks!” “If NAIS becomes mandatory there will be blood in the streets!”
And last, “We will fight NAIS to the death!”