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Amish in Michigan Resist Electronic ID Tags for Cattle

BLANCHARD -- Glen Mast doesn't own a computer and doesn't want one, but he and other Amish farmers complain the state Department of Agriculture is insisting they tag their cattle with electronic chips in violation of their religious beliefs.

State agriculture officials say the radio frequency chips are necessary to track animal diseases and protect public health. Mast and other Amish farmers say the chips' 15-digit number is the Mark of the Beast warned of in the Bible's book of Revelation.

"We're a people who are inclined to mind our own business," Mast said, sitting in the wood shop he operates without electricity on his Isabella County farm. His small herd of dairy cows lounged in the shade of the barn. Across the road, one of his sons raked hay with a team of horses. "We're never happier than when we're just left alone," Mast said. "That's all we're asking."

All over Michigan, Amish farmers are resisting the state program requiring that all cattle be tagged with the electronic chips before they can be sold. Some say they will quit farming if it comes to it. Some say they will leave the state.

"They keep saying that, and that's their choice," said Kevin Kirk, who coordinates the program for the state agriculture department. "Our No. 1 goal is animal health, human health and food safety. I know it's hard sometimes to trust the government, but that's what we're asking is trust us."

State exceeds national program

Michigan's program, which began March 1, is part of a National Animal Identification System created after the outbreaks of mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease in Europe and hastened by fears of terrorist attacks on the United States' food supply.

The national program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is voluntary. Michigan is one of the few states making it mandatory because of a 1998 tuberculosis outbreak among cattle in the northeast Lower Peninsula.

Under the program, each farm is issued a seven-digit identification number entered in a national database. All cattle must have the electronic ear tags, which cost $2 each, before they can be moved off the farm. Scanners at livestock auctions and slaughter houses automatically read the ear tags, tracking each animal's movements.

While the program covers only cattle, it might be expanded to all farm animals, Kirk said. Most Michigan cattle already are marked with metal ear tags embossed with numbers, allowing health officials to track them, but Kirk said the computerized system is much faster. 

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