National Animal Identification System

Wisconsin has become a battleground state in the NAIS debate.  The WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) and its partner, the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) –  which actually administers the state’s NAIS program as a private subcontractor – have received millions in federal taxpayer funding to bring this program into existence, and now many bureaucratic jobs and corporate contracts depend upon its implementation. When over 10% of WI dairy farmers refused to voluntarily register their premises, the state was unable to make good on its threat to pull milk licenses since the state’s economy could not afford to criminalize so many productive farmers overnight.

Nonetheless, DATCP is now denying milk licenses to new dairy farmers, including many Amish who strongly oppose NAIS for religious reasons, even though grass-based Amish dairy operations are one of the fastest growing segments of the entire industry.  The state has also been caught registering  farmers against their will and without their knowledge – a form of identity theft.   Worse yet, the next step of DATCP/WLIC is to move towards mandatory RFID chipping, despite recent scientific studies revealing that RFID chips cause cancer, and thus pose a health threat to both livestock and people.

Contrary to the rhetoric of NAIS proponents, it has nothing to do with animal disease control.  Rather, it is a thinly veiled attempt to further consolidate control of our food/farm system in the hands of corporate agribusiness.  FFD strongly opposes NAIS since it represents such a fundamental violation of food sovereignty.

To find out more, you can read the March 9th, 2010 case in which a state circuit court judge ruled in favor of an Amish farmer, Emmanuel Miller, who refused to register his farm with the state:   MillerLegalCase

Congress Takes Another Pot Shot at Family Farmers

By Jeff Pausma, dairy farmer near Fox Lake, WI and member of Family Farm Defenders

Capital Times (Madison, WI) – Aug. 4th, 2008

Many parents were appalled when we saw on our television screens a video of workers abusing a downer cow with electric shocks because the cow was too sick to stand up. We were even more horrified to learn that meat from that cow had gone into lunches served by the federal School Lunch Program. The scandal at the Hallmark/Westland plant in Chino, Calif., has sparked interest in the current trend of securing local meat from sources that are grass-fed, organic and come from animals raised humanely. Our kids deserve the safest meat in their food. Sadly, Congress is now considering squashing such efforts to get local foods into the School Lunch Program.

In June, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, at the behest of Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and David Obey (D-Wisc.), said it was considering a provision that would force schools to buy meat for the School Lunch program from sources enrolled in the federal government’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The NAIS is hugely controversial among family farmers like me. The U.S. government wants us to inventory, identify and track the movement of all agriculture related animals. Step one is a premise registration where a federal ID number is assigned to our farm. The second step involves tagging each of our animals with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. And finally, we must report to the government any planned movement of our animals.

These onerous and far-reaching conditions have spawned a revolt among many of us seeking to provide high quality, safe food for consumers and our communities. Most animal disease occurs in factory farm operations where thousands of animals are confined in filthy conditions. Yet perversely, factory farms are allowed to have one group ID number, while my 60 cow grass-based dairy must have individual RFID tags that cost $3 each in Wisconsin, even with government subsidies. Then I will be forced to purchase a $1,000 electric wand in order to be able to read the tags and report animal movements to the government. Animals from horses to alpacas to llamas are covered under the NAIS and no one is exempt. Little wonder that so many farmers across the United States have expressed their anger at this Big Brother program that threatens to put us all out of business.

Here in Wisconsin, considered a “model” state for the NAIS program, premise ID has been made mandatory. I received a letter in February 2007 stating that if I did not comply with the Wisconsin law, I would lose my milk producer license. Folks showing alpacas at breeding shows have been required to chip their animals for $35 apiece. Instead of cracking down on the industrial livestock operations that are the source of most animal diseases or dealing with the surge in foreign animal imports from countries with Foot and Mouth outbreaks thanks to our free trade agreements, Congress is instead thwarting efforts to provide local, sustainable sources of food to schools. Tying the NAIS to the School Lunch Program will prevent family farmers from accessing this important market. In the wake of the Hallmark/Westland recall, many school districts began seeking local sources of meat and attempting to get more organic and grass fed beef into schools. Those farm-fresh options will now be limited if Congress chooses to link the program to NAIS.

Wisconsin family farmers have further reasons to be suspicious about the use of NAIS to contain animal disease. Currently, the premise ID database in Wisconsin is run by a private nonprofit called the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC). A look at the board of the WLIC shows it to be a who’s who of corporate agribusiness interests, including Cargill, the Wisconsin Pork Association, and Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association. None of these groups has ever shown much interest in food safety or more regulation over our meat processing plants. The WLIC membership shows no less than four radio ID tag companies. Is NAIS really about consumer safety or fattening the profits of corporate agribusiness and electronic tag companies? The more our state and local governments coerce me into joining, the more I can’t help but be suspicious. Consumers desiring food from local food sources instead of factory farms should be equally troubled.