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Organic Farmers Fight Animal ID Tags

The Northeast Organic Farming Association is backing state legislation that would stop the use of federal money for a national livestock identification and tracking program.

Jack Kittredge, NOFA spokesman, said companion bills have been filed in the Vermont House and Senate that would end U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) money coming to the state to implement the National Animal Identification System.

Kittredge said the USDA is promoting the program as a means of tracking livestock and containing animal disease outbreaks. Critics say the program will not provide solutions for diseases such as bird flu or mad cow disease.

The first step to implement the program, Kittredge said, is the creation of a national database on the location of every animal in the country. The goal of the USDA, he said, is to have owners of livestock place a unique identification number on every animal and report as each animal is moved from one property to another

According to Kittredge, the USDA recently said the program would remain voluntary at the federal level while providing state departments of agriculture with the money to implement the tracking program.

The legislation filed by state Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, and state Rep. Anne M. Gobi, D-Spencer, would end that practice.

"The NAIS would create unnecessary and burdensome regulations that would most hurt the very producers whose sustainable methods already make them the upstanding guardians of public health. Tracking may allow the government database managers to know where animals have been, but won't make us safer," Kittredge said.

Kittredge said Vermont farmers have campaigned to halt the program and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has been pressured to abandon its participation in the NAIS program as well.

He said the bills represent the first attempt to cut off further NAIS funding in the state.

"The bill is simple and direct and would stop NAIS funding and encourage the USDA to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan for disease prevention. We hope the department will learn that supporting sustainable, local agriculture as an alternative to industrial factory farming is the most promising solution to animal disease threats," Kittredge said.

Similar legislation has been filed in Washington, Missouri and Virginia.