Kentucky Farmers and community supporters protest at recent USDA “listening” session for NAIS concerns

Let’s hope it’s becoming abundantly clear to the American public what the National Animal Identification System is really all about. Think about this: It burdens small operators with a mountain of paperwork, enforced with draconian penalties, while requiring a minimal amount of record-keeping by the large operators whose confined animal feeding operations more often seem to be the source of emerging new pathogens (Ref 1, Ref 2, Ref 3). And what’s more, the program’s much-vaunted tracking of meat animals ends at the slaughterhouse door. Now what kind of use is that for any food safety purposes? I’m sure there is a reason NAIS is being pushed so hard, but I doubt it has much to do with food safety. Here’s a report on the outcome of one of the latest USDA “listening sessions”,  from the Community Farm Alliance:

Community Farm Alliance -- sounds like something America could certainly use more of!

Community Farm Alliance -- sounds like something America could certainly use more of!

“KENTUCKY FAMILY FARMERS AND ALLIED GRASSROOTS GROUPS PROTEST NATIONAL ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM AT USDA PUBLIC HEARING

Small Farmers Say Big Business Gets the Long End of the Stick as USDA Stacks the Deck

Louisville, KY (May 22, 2009) The Community Farm Alliance today charged that the agenda for the upcoming listening tour for the National Animal Identification System is biased against small family farmers and will do nothing to improve animal health or food safety. Members of the Community Farm Alliance are especially outraged that the USDA’s proposed system favors large corporate agri-business and factory farming. Ultimately, full implementation of NAIS would annihilate family scale farms, which are the majority of farms in Kentucky.

“The USDA has stated these hearings are a forum to discuss ‘stakeholder concerns’ about NAIS, when the hearings should be focused on whether or not it is needed at all,” said Adam Barr, CFA President and livestock producer. “This program is not an option for a state like Kentucky, where the majority of our farms are small scale. Our farm economy is based in large part on a multitude of beef cattle herds. NAIS would place an undue burden on beef and other livestock producers, who would be required to track all their animals and file a report on a daily basis. We cannot take this from the federal government, we must fight back! As family farmers, our concern is to stop the implementation of this program in its entirety.”

The listening tour, which was promised by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a meeting in Washington D.C. last month, kicked off with a day-long session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania May 15 and will be stopping in Louisville on Friday May 22 during its 12 city run. CFA members and allied organizations from across the Commonwealth and into Southern Indiana and Ohio will assemble at the meeting to send the message to USDA that there Kentucky farmers do not need NAIS.

“We think the very fact that the USDA is holding these meetings represents a victory for those who oppose NAIS,” Barr said. “It shows that the USDA is recognizing that there is significant and growing grassroots opposition to NAIS across the country. Already, five states including Kentucky, Arizona, Missouri, and Utah have passed anti-NAIS legislation. We have worked hard to keep NAIS out of Kentucky and we’re fortunate to have a state legislature that passed a bill to prevent the mandatory implantation of NAIS in Kentucky. We are willing to sit down with USDA and discuss a food safety alternative to NAIS, but NAIS in the present form is unacceptable for all American farmers!”

Community Farm Alliance is urging all farmers and consumers who are concerned about the survival of the small family farm and our growing local food economy in Kentucky to attend the hearings, and to submit comments online by visiting http://www.usda.gov/nais/feedback submit written comments by mailing to ATTN NAIS, Surveillance and Identification Programs, National Center for Animal Health Programs, VS, APHIS, 4700 River Road Unit 200, Riverdale, MD 20737.

“We need to make sure that everyone understands that NAIS is not an effective animal health or food safety program,” said Stephen Bartlett, Coordinator of Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville (SAL) and an active CFA member. “The vast majority of animal health problems are the result of the high-density confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) that concentrate thousands of animals in one location, and in the slaughterhouses, where NAIS traceability ends. NAIS seeks to shift liability to family farmers and away from the true threats to health. NAIS would be expensive, intrusive, unfair and ineffective to boot. It is also arguably unconstitutional with its premise identifications and GPS spyware.”

NAIS requires small farmers to tag and track each animal individually while allowing CAFO’s to track thousands of animals (as many as 80,000 birds in one hen house) under one group registration. CFA members claim that by implementing such a program, USDA would be rewarding factory farms whose practices encourage disease while crippling small farms and the local food movement.

The Community Farm Alliance (CFA) is a grassroots membership organization with over 2,000 members in 75 Kentucky counties. From creating new Farmers’ Markets in underserved urban communities, to developing Farm-to-Cafeteria programs that link local farmers with institutional buyers, to promoting family farm-friendly policies in the halls of the State Capitol, CFA provides a grassroots voice for Kentucky’s citizens-farmer and non-farmer, urban and rural alike-on farm, food, and economic issues. The group’s opposition to NAIS is a part of a larger national movement being led by similar farm and consumer organizations across the country.

CFA members and friends assembled themselves today at the hearing wearing bar-coded “tags” stuck to their clothing, holding protest signs with messages such as “NAIS: Big Business and Big Government killing Small Farmers and Local Food.” They arrived in farm trucks donning protest banners that read “Regulate Factory Farms, Not Family Farmers! Stop NAIS!” A spokesperson for the group said the demonstration outside the public hearing was in response to the USDA’s attempt to keep anti-NAIS comments to a minimum by only allowing those chosen through a lottery to speak during the open comment period of the event. In other states, groups complained that similar strategies prevented those in opposition to NAIS from speaking, while allowing multiple comments from proponents of the program. The group held a press conference at noon stating their reasons for protesting the program and the listening session.

For more information about the Community Farm Alliance visit communityfarmalliance.org

Another related post: Animal RFID tags will not make food safer

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