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.