I think this it turning out to be the model test case for states trying to mandate NAIS. One hundred fifty ticked off farmers can make a difference.
The state of Wisconsin has stopped short, so far, of putting farmers who won’t accept a premise ID numbers, out of business.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) issued a press release Friday saying it would still allow milk transporters and creameries to accept milk from farms that did not have a premise ID.
Wisconsin's new farm premise ID law went into effect Tuesday.
One De Soto area farmer went so far as to say he may sue the state if it doesn’t back off on its mandatory premise ID program.
"I have informed them that if my milk license is not renewed I will bring legal action," said Vernon County producer Mark Brothun.
Brothun runs a 40-cow grade A operation near De Soto with his wife, Jane, and made those statements to the DATCP board last week
The DATCP board had convened in Madison specifically to address the issue of premise ID. Brothun and three other dairy producers were scheduled to be heard that day, but a standing room only crowd of about 150-people soon began demanding answers from the DATCP board about what happens after May 1 if a farm doesn't have an ID number.
A number of Amish producers were in attendance to see what will happen to members of their community if they objected to the number based on religious beliefs. A group of about 200 Amish farmers met last month near Cashton with Brian Rude of the DATCP board and state Sen. Dan Kapanke to air their concerns that the law violates Bible scripture, which prohibits the buying and selling of animals that are numbered.
The premise ID system was intended to give authorities an easy system to track animals and prevent the spread of disease should there be an outbreak.
When a cow was discovered in Washington State in 2003 that had BSE (mad cow disease) and another cow with the same disease was found in Canada, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Canadian government began developing the numbering system. In 2004, the USDA developed the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The NAIS followed the model of other countries in Europe by including three basic elements, which are premise identification, animal identification and eventually movement tracking.
Many countries in Europe have required numbering of farms and individual animals for years. In the United States, the NAIS was set up as a voluntary system. In 2004, Wisconsin passed legislation making premise identification mandatory.
Since that time many states have attempted to implement the system with varying success, but most states have relaxed requirements in the face of opposition. Wisconsin appears to be the only state using enforcement tactics like threatening to withhold milk licenses for producers without the premise ID.
Brothun sees the mandatory aspect the Wisconsin law as a direct contradiction to the federal law.
"The federal law states this is voluntary and they have to allow exemptions," Brothun said. "The number is a federally-issued number and the state is taking $1.7 million from the federal government to implement this."
DATCP spokesperson Donna Gilson said the Wisconsin law is more restrictive than the federal law, but that is not unusual.
"States are always free to make more stringent regulation than the federal law," Gilson said. "The federal government is giving money to all states to implement this, not just Wisconsin, and there is nothing in the federal law that says you can't make it mandatory."
Gilson said states often require varying degrees of regulation. She cited a recent example of pseudorabies in Wisconsin hogs that prompted Michigan to place a ban on all hogs from Wisconsin. Gilson said that is stricter than other states which have only banned hogs from that specific herd or area of the state.
Another major objection to the requirement for Brothun is that the number for his farm would be from the federal government.
"This is federally-generated number that runs with the property forever," Brothun said. "I am all for animal health, but there is no reason the state cannot generate a number internally."
Brothun said the state already has his milk license number and the federal number will just give USDA officials authority to come onto his property in certain situations.
"They could come on property at anytime and draw blood or take samples," Brothun said. "And if they decide to implement the next step, which is individual animal ID, which is implanting chips, we will essentially have a national herd."
Gilson said the number has to be federally generated because the state is implementing the number system for the federal government and the idea was to have a system that allows states to communicate quickly in the case of an emergency.
"Animals cross state lines on a regular basis and it's important that this database can talk to that database, etc.," Gilson said.
Brothun said the regulation is supposed to apply to all farms, but dairy farmers are being targeted first because it is easy to force compliance by not renewing their milk license.
"What about beef farmers and chicken farmers?" Brothun asked. "Are they not going to be able to sell their animals at the stockyard?"
Brothun and others have argued that there is an exemption allowance in the federal regulation that allows producers out of the program if the cost exceeds the benefit. Brothun said the burden to his operation would exceed the benefit. Those arguments seem to be getting to some officials, including State Representative Barbara Gronemus (D-Whitehall), who originally sponsored the bill, but now is questioning its cost.
"I am really disappointed," Gronemus said. "Never did I think this would eliminate the farmer's ability to make a living. We have people with a legitimate product that has already been inspected. Why shouldn't they be able to sell that product just because of this language on the books?"
Gronemus said she introduced the bill on the request of agriculture committee chairman Al Ott (R-Forest Junction).
"They had made attempts to get it done and couldn't get people to join and then asked me to see if I could get it through," Gronemus said. "I could just kick myself for putting my name to it now."
Gronemus said she disagreed with the value of the number for fighting disease outbreaks.
"We had a pseudorabies outbreak in the 1980s just like we do now and we handled that," Gronemus said. "What purpose does this number serve? We already have milk inspectors (who) know where every farm is now. Can't we use some other number?"
Gronemus said the administrative rules that have come out of the bill are not what she intended.
"I wish it were required that every bill have a statement at the top saying what the author’s intent was," Gronemus said. "I have fought with Madison lawyers for years on that and they refuse to allow that. That way when it is made into an administrative rule they know what the intent of the bill was."
Gilson disagreed saying every administrative rule requires public hearings and is sent back to the legislature for review. Legislators can ask for revisions, or if no action is taken the rules become effective after a certain period of time. Gilson said there were additional changes and a number of public hearings for this administrative rule.
Those rules required compliance over a year ago, but Gilson said producers were allowed that time to come into compliance when the threat of not renewing milk licenses came up.
"Where were all of these people when we had all the public hearings?" Gilson asked.
Gronemus said she has considered repealing the bill, but fears she will not get enough votes to get it out of committee. Ott chairs the agriculture committee and Gronemus said he is determined to implement the program.
"His behavior at hearings was so angry and defensive," said Gronemus. "If I were the chairman of that committee I would be demanding answers, but Mr. Ott is of different thinking."
Gronemus said she disagrees with refusing to pick up milk as an enforcement tool.
"What is a farmer supposed to do? Put a cork in the cow?" Gronemus asked. "They have to be milked everyday. They don't just stop."
When asked what he will do with his milk if DATCP enforces the law by not renewing his milk license, Brothun says he will likely be dumping his milk.
"I have informed them I am paid up and I have passed all my inspections and there is no reason not to issue my license," Brothun said. "If they don't I am ready to take legal action and I guess I will have to dump it."
As of Friday Brothun appears to have received a reprieve from the regulation, but only time will tell if that reprieve is temporary or if DATCP will continue to pursue mandatory enforcement.