January 31, 2007

Update: USDA announces an "opt out" procedure for NAIS

As I suspected. This is not the breaking news that Liberty Ark (cough cough) would have you believe. I called the chap at the USDA yesterday and spoke with him. What I learned directly from him is that what USDA will do is tell any caller who wants to opt-out that they have to contact the state's agriculture agency with a written request. The state will decide on a case-by-case basis. Case-by-case? Kaczmarski said he wasn't familiar with the criteria for case-by-case and again suggested that anyone wanting to opt out should contact their state agency. Another push onto the states, making them responsible for the program that they didn't write and, no doubt, is becoming a huge headache.

So, nope, no opt out procedure. Still, I'd call your state's ag agency and request to be opted out just to see what happens.

I annoys me that LibertyArk is acting just like a mainstream activist organization. I am starting to wonder who is funding them. I haven't trusted them since
the Talent/Emerson bill debauchle. That was when I resigned as Vermont's state coordinator. Lately whenever they get involved in the crafting of a bill you can be sure that the word "voluntary" will pop up in the bill's language.

Original post 1/29/07
Unsubstantiated, but worth putting up anyway.

USDA announces an "opt out" procedure for NAIS

Monday, January 29, 2007

In a remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to provide an "opt out" procedure for people whose premises have been registered in the National Animal Identification System. Complaints have arisen in several states from people who say that their premises were registered without their knowledge. Until now, these people have been told the USDA has no provision for removing a premises once it has been registered.

Ben Kaczmarski, a spokesman for USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, told the Liberty Ark Coalition late last week, that since the NAIS was now an "opt in" voluntary program, that it had decided to provide an "opt out" procedure. Even though the protocol has not yet been fully defined, the spokesman said the procedure would require that a person who wants to opt out, write a formal request to be removed from the NAIS, to the state NAIS coordinator. The state coordinator will confirm the validity of the request, and advance the request to USDA. The USDA will then, presumably, remove the name from the registry, according to Kaczmarski. State NAIS coordinators can be located here.

Carol and Calvin Whittaker are delighted to hear this news. They have tried unsuccessfully for several months to get their land removed from the NAIS registry. They are now filing the written request as specified by the USDA, and the Liberty Ark Coalition will monitor the process to measure the time required, and the bureaucratic obstacles, if any, that must be overcome.

This new policy is met with great enthusiasm by the many people who oppose the NAIS, but it is also met with a large degree of skepticism. Since the controversial program was announced in 2005, with a time-line for the program to become mandatory by 2007, opposition has grown steadily. The USDA had to release a new strategy in 2006, and renounce the "mandatory" provision of the program.

While proclaiming that the program is now, and will always be, voluntary, the USDA poured money into states to encourage them to make the program mandatory at the state level. But opponents have convinced legislators in six states to introduce legislation prohibiting any kind of mandatory animal identification program. And several other states are likely to follow with similar legislation.

Moreover, at its October 16, 2006 meeting, the United States Animal Health Association's Livestock Identification Committee issued a report (Page 14) that recommends that the USDA create a list of "consistent" states, which are states that:

"have established by law, rule, order, or other means a requirement that all breeding age cattle be officially identified by means of official tag or registration brand or tattoo at each change of ownership, other than movements direct to slaughter, or movements through one approved market and then direct to slaughter."

Should the USDA adopt this recommendation, animal movement in "non-consistent" states could be restricted, not only by the USDA, but by the states. To NAIS opponents, this appears to be another way the USDA is saying to the public that the NAIS is voluntary, while behind the scenes, doing everything in its power to force livestock owners to comply with the identification requirements.

The public relations campaign in support of the program claims it will stop, or reduce, animal disease outbreaks such as mad cow disease, by providing the ability to trace a diseased animal to its source within 48 hours. The Liberty Ark Coalition says this is a myth, because:

"Mad Cow disease is not contagious, takes years to develop, and is completely preventable. NAIS is designed to do only one thing: provide 48-hour trace-back of animal movements. This is simply not relevant to protecting our food supply from Mad Cow disease. Moreover, the USDA has stated that it estimates that there are only four to seven (4-7) cows in the entire U.S. that have BSE, or Mad Cow Disease, and that it's not even necessary to conduct testing to protect our food supply. Indeed, the USDA refuses to allow a U.S. company, Creekstone Farms & Premium Beef, to voluntarily test all of its cattle for BSE, in order to satisfy its customers' wishes. If BSE is not enough of a threat to justify (or even allow) testing, then certainly it cannot be the basis for requiring millions of animals to be electronically tagged and their every move tracked."

Opponents of the program contend that it was conceived by, and will benefit, only large meat packers and exporters, and the technology companies that provide the identification and tracking equipment.

Opposition has grown dramatically, as small farmers and ranchers realize that their horse, chickens, pigs or cows fall under the USDA's jurisdiction, and they will have to bear the cost and inconvenience of a program that will make no difference to animal health, and benefit only the large exporters and technology companies.

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