Monday, January 09, 2006

New Cattle Tracking System Being Proposed

Since the discovery of a mad cow in Washington (state, not D.C.) in 2003 the U.S. Agriculture Department has been moving forward on a national cattle tracking system known as NAIS. While at first blush this sounds like a good idea from the perspective of ensuring a safe food supply, further consideration of the proposal I think will show that it has become a government grab for control and power.

Microchips will be implanted into the animals to be tracked. Information will be provided to the USDA every time a tracked animal changes locations. The plan is to apply this system to all alpacas and llamas, bison, cattle (beef and dairy), deer and elk, horses, goats, poultry, sheep, and swine. All locations that hold, manage, or board animals will be required to have a unique Premises Identification Number by January 2008. This all sounds good and safe, but lets look at some of the issues.

Look at the list of animals to be tracked. Remember this started with a mad cow. What does that have to do with all the other animals. The avian flu scare is pushing poultry into the scheme, but still the justification for this full list is weak, very weak.

Now look at who it applies to. This scheme will apply to everyone, from the large producers down to 4-H participants to the family that keeps a few chickens and goats in their backyard for their own consumption. Overkill! Tracking animals in the production pipeline is one thing, but there is no justification for levying this monstrosity onto everyone.

Now for the technology. What happens to the microchips when such animals are slaughtered? How will it be guaranteed that the microchips themselves don't enter the food chain? What about the data itself: What guarantee is there that it will not be misused? A complete database of animals and who owns them would be a serious tax temptation for the government.

Finally let's look at cost. Who will pay? They will be additional cost at every level. For example, poultry hatcheries will have to implant the chips into chicks that they hatch, diving up the cost of chicks. Everyone will need to have a reader connected to the system and know how to use it. Then there is the cost of keeping and tracking the data. All that will end up costing us more, lots more, for our food.

What should be done? I don't disagree with having a national animal tracking system, but confine it to the commercial production side. Any animals entering the commercial food production chain could be tracked, but exempt the home and hobby farmers who's food does not enter the commercial market. Current registration systems are more than good enough for that area. And develop a system that is less manually intensive and has a lower risk of foreign objects entering the food supply.

We should be able to eat safe, but not to the tune of more government control and excess ost.

1 comment:

Walter Jeffries said...

Thank you for writing about NAIS. More people need to know how NAIS is going to hurt small farmers and homesteaders and then ultimately consumers as our national food supply becomes consolidated into the hands of fewer and fewer larger corporations. Even vegetarians will pay the price because good organic veggies are grown in composts of animal manure. With fewer animals being raised organically in the traditioanl manner there will be less manure.

I have setup a blog at to track NAIS.

-Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm