Save My Chickens: Take Action Against NAIS

I’m sitting in my backyard, surrounded by chickens and children. A couple of dogs periodically pester both species of livestock. (Yes, I did just call my child flock “livestock.”) I’m waiting on the first egg of the day, a pink speckled one from my oldest Americana hen.

This backyard chicken experiment is new to my family, only a 6-month-old endeavor. We wanted our children to know where food comes from. We wanted to know that the eggs we ate were from happy chickens.

But as the number of small chicken “farmers” pop up in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike, our collective grand experiment may be in peril.
A pricey and intrusive rule is on its way in. The USDA’s proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will require that all animals be fitted with tracking IDs under the guise of disease control. Sounds great, right?

Well, in reality, this proposal will do for small farms with the CPSIA will eventually do to small crafters: put them out of business. (If you haven’t caught this news, look into the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which disproportionately affects makers of handmade goods.)

These tags are costly, and small farmers, who treat their livestock well and usually allow them to roam free outside, would be required to tag each individual cow, sheep, goat, llama, and pig. The new regulations also open the door to affect chicken farmers as well.

How would the large agribusiness fare? Well just peachy, thank you for asking! Actually, corporate “farms” worked with the USDA on the standards. The outcome? A company like Tyson’s, which treats its chickens just fabulously, would have “group identification” and would only have to tag one of every 20 or 30 chickens.  But if your livestock comes in contact with other animals (you know, as in it sees the light of day during its lifetime), you must tag each individual animal.

Some other highlights of this plan:

~The “voluntary” clause. Currently, the USDA claims that at the federal level, the rules are voluntary.  However, in the years since the rules were laid out, some states have adopted mandatory standards.  Others followed the USDA’s memo that asked veterinarians to enroll clients, with or without their consent or knowledge. Idaho, New York and Massachusetts issued premises numbers to livestock owners unasked. A Pennsylvania Mennonite successfully sued the PDA after he was unknowingly enrolled. Tennessee and North Carolina state agriculture departments denied farmers disaster relief if they were not registered in NAIS.  Children were kicked out of the State Fairs for not being registered. Voluntary, schmoluntary.

~Loss at the Farmer’s Market. We all know eating locally raised meat is the best choice for omnivores. When your local foods market opens in a couple months, ask those who bring you orange-yolked eggs and grass-fed beef how this will affect them.   Farms that move animals in bulk from feedlot to slaughterhouse can get one animal ID for the entire herd. But smaller farmers, who move and sell animals individually, would have to get each animal an ID at a cost of about $1.50 apiece. If these rules are made mandatory for all farmers, you’ll have much less of a choice on local deliciousness. Back to factory-farmed beef we go! In the words of one organic Austin farmer,

Where is the scientific proof that small farmers pose the same disease risk as large confined feeding operations? It will be impossible to report every death, every coyote carrying off a chicken; you just can’t.

~Discriminatory. What about those who choose not to participate in government programs, like Amish or Mennonite farmers? They are unfairly discriminated against, and some have reportedly decided to stop selling their wonderful dairy, meat, and egg products to the public in states where enrollment is mandatory.

~It’s all their fault. You know how you already try to avoid hormone-laden meats? Those chock full of antibiotics? Agribusiness loads up their livestock with antibiotics to combat the diseases that are bound to spread quickly in their jam-packed warehouse operations.  I don’t use antibiotics on my girls, just some apple cider vinegar and garlic, thank you! Nowadays, factory farms are actually causing the outbreaks, and the suspect seems to be those antibiotics causing stronger pathogens.  The spinach and beef recalls in the past couple of years originated on feedlots.

~The USDA has given conflicting statements on its own proposal. In The Nation, Bruce Knight, a USDA undersecretary, said

The important thing is to have a system whereby in the event of catastrophic animal disease, we can identify everyone in the community and let them know what’s going on, and do it within forty-eight hours.

But the Government Accountability Office disagrees.  They said a major flaw is the USDA’s inability to access information essential for tracking purposes, because much of the data has been outsourced to private corporations that (surprise!) were part of the consortium that pushed for the NAIS in the first place. The USDA apparently does not have access to all the data collected under the program. The USDA also said that they needed a rapid response system to deal with avian flu and mad cow disease. However, the system ends with an animal’s death.  Although NAIS could possibly track the affected live animals, the current problem in the U.S. food system is obviously poorly handled food at the manufacturing level.

According to activist group Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance:

The stated purpose of the NAIS is to provide 48-hour traceback to address animal disease. But the NAIS does not address the critical issues for disease prevention and control:
• the causes of disease, especially differences in management;
• the vectors of disease transmission, including wild animals, insects, and imports;
• testing for disease, including tests for Mad Cow and other food-safety issues; and
• the unique issues posed by each species and each disease
The proponents of NAIS also ignore the alternatives for tracking animals through lower-cost and less intrusive programs.
Contrary to claims, the NAIS will not protect against bio-terrorism. Terrorists are unlikely to target hobby animal owners and small farmers.

Speak out against the NAIS before your favorite local food sources go extinct.  Go to the Organic Consumers Association site and contact your members of Congress about these rules.

As consumers and producers of local, organic, and delicious foods, we need to stick together!

Images: My own.  First one is Junior, my rooster, named by my dh and his quirky sense of humor.  The second is the array of eggs you’d enjoy if I sold you a dozen.

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8 thoughts on “Save My Chickens: Take Action Against NAIS”

  1. Thank you for writing about this topic, it is a hot button issue in animal agriculture, as small farmers are definitely the ones who will feel the pain if NAIS is adopted. Your point about the fact that it merely addresses a symptom and not the root cause of preventable food borne illness outbreaks due to animal agriculture and its products is imperative for people to realize. Proper management and handling of animals through their raising and during “harvesting” (animal agriculture jargon for slaughter), as well as proper care taken by food preparers can prevent outbreaks of such food contaminants as E.coli 0157:H7.

  2. Seriously, I think the country is going to revolt as it becomes more and more intrusive to benefit the politician’s buddies. I too have backyard chickens that provide fresh eggs and plenty of fun and education for my children and grandchildren. They are clean, healthy, and roam freely when not confined to the coop at night.

    We all need to stop feeding the monster – supporting big business, big banking, big government.

    Great post. I’m going to followup on this initiative. Thanks!

  3. Mrs. MIchael Sabo

    It does my heart good to see the information finally being spread to the individuals who need it. Just a few points:

    The Amish in NY were enrolled without their knowledge “so their collective concious” could be clear. Hmmm..

    Mr. Emmanual Miller was charged with forfeiture of “up to $5,000” 12-22-08 for not having a Premises ID – he is Amish and lives in Wisconsin. Hmmmmm…

    Mr. Paul Greipentrog, an English neighbor who attempted to assist Mr. Miller file an “Amicus Curiea” just happened to have the same thing happen Thursday – January 29, 2009. Hmmm…

    Even though the USDA has been pushing this issue like one of my children begging for candy in the checkout aisle – small livestock owners don’t want it. The only difference between my children and the USDA? The USDA has the cash to force it through.

    Unless indiviuals step up and comment on the Federal Register – how does .gov know anyone gives a flying leap?

    If you don’t like the idea because you think it is intrusive – you don’t have to dig up statute 478.56.C.iii to prove that point – Just tell them “I think it is too intrusive”.

    It was a sad day when my husband and I had to sit down and discuss: “If we are raided by our own Government about Premises ID, should we leave the house? What about the children, should we teach them to flee? Or should we sell our dairy goats and chickens?”

    What would be nice is a simple solution – however this becomes more complex the more documentation one reads. After all if the government is offering you a “free” program – it is a good idea to figure out what it will cost you.

    Become aware of this program and join a local group speaking up about it – your voice might make the difference.

    Sharon Sabo
    IICFA – Illinois

  4. Thank you for your presentation on the dangers of NAIS. I did an extensive Public Disclosure request. In one document, the government said they definitely “would not target religious groups” while another document said they definitely “would target religious groups because they MIGHT raise livestock”. Can you believe it? 1984… double-speak here we come.

    One has to wonder about a program that in one (1) state between 2004-2006 has 400,000 documents…yes, its true! That is almost a half a million documents on NAIS, in 1 state, in 3 years. When you think of all the other states, and that it is now in its 6th year, that is allot of our tax-money wasted!

    When the Public Disclosure request was presented to the Agency to show all the documents they began to hem and haw…and someone had to file a law suit to get these documents, many of which are up on the web right now for all to see. They give a very clear picture what this NAIS program is really all about and what the “insiders” say about the program.

    The fur is flying here in WA to keep the NAIS voluntary. It was heard in the House and Senate this week. I hope y’all will fight to keep NAIS voluntary in your state(s) too.

    Quality and nutritious food is a heritage we don’t want to loose. Continue farming and enjoy :-)

  5. How can they track every last chicken cow pig, etc
    so insane…The religious objections of the Amish are often noted as why NAIS will not
    work, as the Amish cannot be part of something they think goes against their religion and rightly so….
    May I bring up the other side of the religious coin but in no way
    support/agree with this religion just using it for sake of argument….but
    it is something the USDA will have to deal with (but most likely ignore as there are easier pickins elsewhere, like the rest of us!)
    There is a voodoo religion called Santeria, which is legal in the US; they
    routinely sacrifice goats and chickens to their gods. Will they chip those
    chickens and goats, and report when they buy or kill an animal? Many times their rituals take place in city apartments in secret, many are poor and unsanitary and I am sure they do not have handy access to a reader and computer to file a report of a chicken #45678798 just sacrificed in apt 3c, somewhere in a US city slum.
    They often practice sprinkling the animal blood to bless a place (this happened in NYC when a santerian priest sprinkled chicken blood on a school to bless it!!!!) Talk about a way to spread disease!!!! Will the USDA force them to register their premises in those city apartments, tag and track those animals? ???? There are no exemptions in the NAIS document, but with people who practice voodoo, you want to give them a wide berth!

  6. could you please tell me how to use this Apple cider vinegar and garlic for my chickens so i don’t have to use the antibiotics…..
    Thank You

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