From: , Organic Consumers Association, More from this Affiliate
Published April 11, 2008 10:00 AM

USDA Strong-Arming Organic Farmers to Join Big Brother-Like National Animal Identification System

Livestock producers who sign up for marketing programs such as Process Verified, Certified Organic and Non-Hormone Treated Cattle may find themselves automatically registered in the National Animal Identification System.

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing System's Business Plan, officially released last week, circumvents the opposition to NAIS, mostly from family farmers and small specialty producers, who participate in the AMS programs.

Promoted to the general public as protecting public health, NAIS imposes heavy burdens on small producers, despite their compliance with accepted health and safety standards. Family farms produce proportionately more and safer food than factory farms. Some have already abandoned their operations in states that are enforcing premises registration, animal identification and traceback requirements. Family farmers and small producers offer a healthy, safe and humane alternative to food from factory farms.

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Although the program is described as 'voluntary at the federal level,' rules and regulations requiring registration and animal identification for program participation and commercial sales effectively make NAIS mandatory.

"Once NAIS is tied to an AMS-controlled program, small artisan producers will be forced into NAIS in order to use even simple marketing claims such as 'naturally raised'," said Mary Zanoni, founder of Farm for Life, an organization supporting sustainable agricultural operations.

Many family farmers have resisted registering their farms with the government due to the heavy-handed nature of the NAIS program. The USDA claims NAIS is needed to trace disease outbreaks in livestock animals, but its own veterinarians have conceded that, the overwhelming majority of livestock can be traced through existing programs. Opponents point out that NAIS does not address prevention or treatment of animal disease.

Rhonda Perry, a Missouri livestock and grain farmer and member of the National Family Farm Coalition said, "It is truly disturbing that USDA would be promoting NAIS thru the check-off system, which has for years been taking our money and promoting industrial livestock operations at the expense of family farmers. The factory farms under NAIS would be permitted to identify entire herds with a single number, while small producers would be required to tag every animal. This is yet another example of how the check-off system is an undemocratic abuse of our money."

Mark Kastel of Cornucopia Institute said, "It is outrageous for USDA to use the National Organic Standards Program to coerce farmers into the NAIS program. There are grave concerns that USDA will eventually force dairy and other livestock farmers to sign up for this expensive and intrusive program if they want organic certification. Since organic certification already requires a complete audit trail on all animals, bullying organic producers into NAIS is onerous and unjustified."

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