As the controversy of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) continues to divide the livestock industry, one man is leading a campaign against the program by not only writing letters to congressmen, but also by starting up a Web site and contributing articles he has written.
Darol Dickinson, manager of the family-owned Dickinson Cattle Co. Inc., runs one of the 50 largest registered cattle ranches in the United States, numbering up to 1,600 registered cattle. The ranch is also involved in livestock marketing, retail meat sales, cattle feeding, and exporting to more than 20 countries.
As proposed, when and if implemented, the NAIS will allow state health agencies, in the event of a disease outbreak, to trace the movement of an animal back to the place of origin within 48 hours.
The issue of the accuracy and costs of recording each movement of an animal has been questioned and is a concern of many cattlemen, including Dickinson.
Dickinson brought up a January 2007 experience as one of the reasons why he is opposed to the NAIS program while being interviewed for this article.
He said in 2007, he was visited by a detective of the APHIS Investigative and Enforcement Services, not for a disease outbreak, but because of a clerical error. The error involved an interstate movement of one cow sold in January 2006, in which the veterinarian did not list one number on the certificate of veterinary inspection for interstate movement of animals.
Dickinson wrote about this incident in the article, "Chasing a Cow Over Five States," detailing the happenings of what he experienced to warn others of the federal penalties the NAIS may lead to if the program should become mandatory.
At the present time, the NAIS is voluntary, except in four states where legislation has implemented a mandatory program to assist in the control of certain diseases.
"The fines and penalties for USDA are very nebulous. They have the ability to 'stack' their charges like no other enforcement agency. For instance, you transport a critter over state lines and the USDA licensed veterinarian fills out the health certificate incorrectly you may be charged and fined for not knowing he did it wrong," Dickinson said. "When they can't make their case, they hold it in a file and threaten in a future date to bring it up again and attach it to another minor violation making a 'stacked' charge on one of their house rules."
After Dickinson refused to plead no contest and pay $1,000 in fines, the case was dropped a year and a half later. Dickinson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will keep the case on file and add it to the next violation "to create a really bad violation." He said the vet was called before a hearing court in Oklahoma and was hammered verbally. He had failed to include one optional number on the certificate.
Dickinson also questions if the movement of animals can accurately be recorded by the databases, since the average steer in the United States now has eight owners during it's lifetime, with the consumer being No. 8. With the animal identification program, six computer entries will be required, giving many opportunities for errors, and fines, he said.
Dickinson released an article in 2008 titled, "NAIS - the Fourth Component," which he said is enforcement. Dickinson reviewed the fines that may be imposed if and when the animal identification program becomes mandatory, ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 and more, citing U.S. Code, Title 7, found on the Web site of the Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute.
"One could be fined in county court $1,000 for a 70-mile-per-hour speed violation through a school zone, yet $50,000 for crossing a state line with one number incorrect on a USDA- issued livestock health certificate - for a perfectly healthy child's pony!" Dickinson wrote.
Dickinson wrote the enforcement article since he believes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is a "law-making branch of the federal government that could take a $10 parking violation and make it into a hanging offense. One fine from Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES division of APHIS) can devastate a family farm completely and it doesn't have to involve any animal disease."
"The APHIS/NAIS site changes like a baby diaper. It is a moving target and referred to as a 'living' document. They can add or remove at any time. It is not designed to easily understand. Undefined created words allow APHIS to interpret as they wish at a future date," Dickinson said.
Dickinson's article and others can be found on his Web site http://www.naisSTINKS.com, which contains articles, political cartoons, posters, and quotes in opposition to the NAIS. It is an "attempt to set the record straight from the twisted press releases USDA sends to media daily," Dickinson said. He considers the site as "a self-defense site to preserve family livestock businesses."
"I want to save the ranch I have worked to build for 42 years for my grandchildren and I don't want it destroyed by the federales with unnecessary enforcements for a problem we don't have," he said.
At the present time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Web site states, "There are no Federal penalties or other 'enforcement' mechanisms associated with the NAIS." Not unlike other government slight-of-speech promises, they want to change that to mandatory and the enforcements will be on the way.
"I'm hopeful that we can bring people in and lay out on the table what are your concerns about a mandatory system," said USDA Sec. Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. "Let's work through them and see if we can get to a point where we can then fashion a mandatory system that would do the job and would work."
According to Dickinson, "There's only one problem with the Vilsack plan, that one pernicious word---MANDATORY."
Reporting, editing; Doering, Gregorio, Headtel, Dickinson, Pat Kopecki and Wilson County News.
Lone Cattleman Develops Web Site to Oppose NAIS
Lone cattleman develops Web site
WilsonCountyNews.com, March 31, 2009
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