One of my favorite Kossacks, Judith2007, wrote a diary that was largely ignored yesterday. But it should not have been. Judith is a sustainable farmer... to you Michael Pollan fans, Judith is "my" Joel Salatin. She's AMAZING. The work she does is amazing. But her farm - and all farms like hers - are being threatened by Big Brother for animals, the National Animal ID System (NAIS).
How important is this? Well, here's where I'd rank it. I work in health care and that's a major issue for me. I got into caring about food for personal reasons but also because I see the larger issue on my job... what's the point of making people healthy if we keep making them sick in the first place? Trust me, while you may be able to live just fine on cholesterol meds or with diabetes, you'll be far happier if you never have the problem in the first place. That's why reforming our food system is so big for me. Add to that agriculture's potential for helping (or harming) global warming and our environment and there's just no question.
Since Judith is a sustainable farmer, she's my expert. And she thinks the top issue for farmers like her is NAIS. I believe her. Read on and decide of you do too... then please go vote at Change.org on the top 10 issues.
Here are Judith's words:
As I watch newborn baby lambs playing King of the Hill, bouncing and playing like their legs are springs, my heart fills with both joy and dread. I’m a city girl, a lawyer, who got into farming because I believe passionately that small, sustainable farms are our future – the future for improving human health, clean air and water, diverse ecosystems, renewable energy and an end to our dependence on oil, and respect for all life, from the soil to the plants to the animals. And I see that future threatened by our own government, which is doing the bidding of multinational corporations that care for nothing besides their profits.
I picture what these young lambs’ lives would be under the corporate system – tagged with radio tags at birth and tracked like so many widgets as they are crammed into feedlots knee-deep in manure and dosed with drugs. I’ve been fighting to stop that from happening for the last 3 years, and I’m asking for a few seconds of your time to help now.
In other words, NAIS is designed to accommodate factory farms easily while heavily burdening small sustainable producers and even PET OWNERS!!! This is being done in the name of food safety but it won't actually help food safety. In fact, if it puts people like Judith out of business, it will hurt food safety.
Big Ag corporations have manipulated our government’s policies to increase their profits and hurt both small farmers and consumers (think Wall Street versus Main Street). One of the worst programs they have developed is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This issue is among the ideas being voted on at Change.org. Please take a few seconds to click over and vote to Stop NAIS! If Stop NAIS is one of the Top 10 Ideas for Change in America, based on this competition, it will gain significant press attention and support when it is presented to the Obama Administration.
NAIS is a plan to tag and track every single livestock animal – right down to grandma’s laying hen and kids’ pet ponies. In most cases, the plan calls for electronic tagging, such as microchips and RFIDs. NAIS will drive local family and organic farms out of business and impose burdens on everyone from recreational horse owners to people in poverty who are trying to raise food for themselves. NAIS will enrich the corporations that already control most of our food supply, at the expense of both farmers and consumers.
For many, the sound bite of "tracking every animal" sounds like a good idea. After all, surely people should know where their food comes from?! I agree completely with informing consumers and holding people accountable for the safety and quality of our food supply. The problem is that NAIS, although it sounds good, will do exactly the opposite – it will make our food supply less safe.
The first reason NAIS will do nothing for food safety is that it ends when the animal dies. According to the CDC, most food borne illnesses are the result of contamination at the slaughterhouse and food processing/ handling facilities. And with a typical burger patty containing meat from 50 to 100 cattle from multiple states and two to four countries, tracking individual live animals doesn’t translate to safer burgers. NAIS ends before the real problem begins!
And the ultimate effect of NAIS will be to make food less safe. NAIS favors factory farms and burdens small and sustainable farms. The Big Ag companies ensured that NAIS had a loophole for them. Factory confinement farms, raising thousands of chickens or hogs in a building filled with their own waste and fed poisons and hormones, would be able to use "group identification." Yet small farmers, such as a pastured poultry farmer, will be stuck tagging each and every animal, right down to their individual chickens. It’s not just an issue of cost, although that is significant – it’s also a question of time and labor. For many farmers, it simply would be impossible to comply.
As Judith explains that for many it would be impossible to comply - due to time, labor, and cost they would no longer be able to remain in business. Others maybe could comply but find NAIS so intrusive and maddening that they would rather go out of business than comply. One 4-H prize winner at a fair was denied first place after winning it for refusing to register her parents property into the federal database for NAIS. She could have received the prize if she simply agreed to do so and STILL refused - which meant giving up the prize.
So which food is safer? Factory farmed meat from animals who are often too sick to even walk, processed in slaughterhouses that abuse immigrant labor and kill thousands of animals a day under horrific conditions? Or meat from animals raised on pasture, eating what Nature intended them to eat, and who face the end of their lives in a small, family-owned slaughterhouse that carefully processes perhaps a few dozen animals a week? Food produced by mega-corporations whose only legal responsibility is to make money for their shareholders, or food raised by a small farmer who feeds that same food to his own family and looks you in the eye when he sells you the package?
At the very least, don’t we want a choice between those two food systems in this country? NAIS will deprive people of that choice, by driving our small and sustainable farmers out of business.
Even if you don’t eat animal products, similar plans are in the works for tracking every piece of produce, with similar devastating effects on small and sustainable produce growers.
USDA’s original plan called for NAIS to be mandatory by 2009. After a public outcry, USDA changed its tune to claim that NAIS would be "voluntary at the federal level." But USDA continues to use both carrots and sticks to push NAIS. Parts of the program have been implemented on a mandatory basis in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana, while other states have used coercion and deception to increase participation. The USDA recently wrote a memo that makes the first stage of NAIS (the registration of people’s property) mandatory for anyone who does anything under an existing disease control program. Under pressure from USDA, several states have adopted laws authorizing state implementation of NAIS that include heavy fines and even criminal penalties.
President-Elect Obama can easily stop this program by directing the new USDA Undersecretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs to stop implementing NAIS. Please support a healthy and safe food supply, that provides a truly sustainable future for us all.
One last reason why it's so important to vote for NAIS... on other issues, the Dems are already on board. For example, the Employee Free Choice Act. No worries there. But NAIS? Leading Dems are actually FOR it even though opposing NAIS helped Claire McCaskill win her Senate seat and there are any number of reasons why to oppose it. So please, vote for NAIS at Change.org