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Organic Consumers Association

Efforts to Halt the National Animal Identification System Head to Court

A couple of speed bumps have developed in rolling out implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), the joint effort of the USDA and big agribusiness to legislate mandatory registration of everyone who owns just one livestock animal. Two recently filed law suits reveal the frustrations of animal owners over this legislation which they see as part of the effort to monopolize American food production through the use of fear and intimidation.

A suit filed on July 14 in U.S. District Court by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund is seeking to stop the USDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) from implementing the NAIS. The first two stages of implementation have already been completed and involve property registration and issuance of a 15 digit unique ID number usually in the form of a microchip or distance-readable Radio Frequency ID tag for all cattle and farms throughout the state. The effort will later extend to all horses, donkeys, chickens, pigeons, goats, llamas, sheep, pigs, cows, alpacas, ducks, farmed fish, etc.

The third stage planned by the USDA will entail the livestock owner's reporting to a database all changes in ownership and significant changes in location or status of any animal. The owner will pay a fee for each report.

Formulated under the Patriot Act and therefore with no legislative review or input of the people, NAIS is designed to streamline access to international markets for multinational meatpackers and processors of animal products, and to protect them from liability involving their products.

The suit is asking the court to issue an injunction stopping the implementation of NAIS at either the state or federal levels by any state or federal agency. A successful outcome of this suit would stop NAIS in its tracks.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund president, Taaron Meikle, quoted on the NoNAIS.org website is angered by the actions of the USDA which is spending over $118 million on the beginning stages of this so-called voluntary program that ultimately seeks to register more than 120 million animals into a national database at a time when the USDA efforts to protect the country's food safety are woefully under funded.

In another suit, a journalist following family farm issues is taking the government to court to require it to keep faith with the American farmers by allowing access to its records. Although registration in NAIS is publicized as being voluntary, many livestock owners report that, despite their refusal to register their animals, they have been placed in the program's database without their knowledge or consent. Having the registration list available for public scrutiny would allow animal owners to see what information the government is keeping on them.

The journalist, Mary-Louise Zanoni, is a freelance writer in New York. She is seeking disclosure of the USDA's National Premise Information Repository (NPIR), a list of contact information for livestock premises, as well as a list of how many livestock owners have requested removal from the NPIR and how many such requests the USDA has honored.

Ms. Zanoni submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for the NPIR list. The agency initially indicated that it planned to disclose several thousand pages of the list to her, but later denied her request on the basis of FOIA's exemption 6 which in some circumstances permits an agency to withhold files when disclosure would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Ms. Zanoni contends that the NPIR list is basic contact information that would not fall under FOIA exemption 6. She points out the Farm Bill, Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, which includes a provision added by the conference committee at the last minute and with no public debate, as being intended to shield large amounts of USDA information from public disclosure. She challenges this provision as not applicable to her request and as unconstitutionally enacted.

Signing animal owners up for NAIS without their permission is only the beginning of the coercion. When NAIS takes full effect, strict enforcement involving fines, inspections and confiscation or redistribution of livestock can be done by the USDA or state officials without trial or legal hearings and with no compensation to the owner of the animals. Failure to register home or farm with a Premise ID already faces a $1,000 fine in some states. This is in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Coercion also extends to the schools where USDA officials try to use children as recruiters for their parents. The Future Farmers of America and the 4H Club have received large sums to use getting children to endorse the program to their parents.

NAIS will not make the American consumer any safer. The initiative is not intended for that purpose. The goal of NAIS is to provide animal tracking required for exporting animals to foreign markets. NAIS expands profits of the huge food conglomerates, not consumer safety. The trace back required by international markets could mean weeks or months have elapsed since any problem would actually have occurred.

The most common type of meat contamination in the United States is from bacteria such as E coli and Listeria. Contamination is not discovered until masses of people become ill. The giant meat processors slaughter thousands of animals a day and pack their meat in huge plants. NAIS would be useless in determining if the contamination was from one animal, multiple animals, or unsanitary conditions. Meat from the giant processors is sent to all the states simultaneously, endangering millions of consumers at one time.

Contamination of food generally happens after it leaves the farm. Many examples of factory contaminated food fill the news. If a problem is not discovered at the factory but later, at the consumer level, there is a recall. The systems are in place to handle all situations.

Meat sold to stores and restaurants is supposedly USDA inspected during slaughter and processing. But the large numbers of recalls show that meat from big commercial producers may not have been properly inspected because the USDA is too busy pushing NAIS to do its job as it should be done. NAIS does nothing to halt the spread of Mad Cow Disease or Avian Flu.

Agribusiness is the clear winner under NAIS. The prize is expanded export markets with legal liability protection, market share gains, bigger monopolies and higher prices. The losers are the small farmers who will be forced out of business due to the required additional fees and paperwork, and the consumers who will ultimately have to foot the bill for NAIS.

About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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