Tagging has strong opposition

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Parker says microchip tagging of animals will be mandatory by 2009

Tagging animals with a microchip will be mandatory by 2009, according to a draft of the United States Department of Agriculture's National Animal Identification System plan. This doesn't sit well with Bob Parker of Raymondville, Mo., who spoke to a courtroom filled with concerned residents at the Fulton County Courthouse May 18 for a "Stop the NAIS" information meeting.

The NAIS is the USDA plan to track the births, deaths, co-mingling and movements of livestock on U.S. farms. Such a system is already in place in Australia and Europe, said Parker, who raises cattle and sells real estate. Currently the plan covers horses, cattle, goats, poultry, sheep, swine, alpacas, llamas, bison, deer and elk.

Parker said the technical supplement to the plan reveals that the USDA plans to expand the plan to cover fish and quail.

The goal is to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 hours of discovery.

According to the draft plan available at the USDA Web site (www.usda.gov), there are five key milestones to the plan. The first two, having all states capable of premise registration and making an animal identification number system operational are set for 2007.

The next milestone for the plan is to have premises registered and animal identification alerts in place by April 2007.

In January 2008, premise registration and animal identification will be required, followed in January 2009 by making the program mandatory.

"They've been trying to do this for 30 years; 9-11 gave them an excuse," Parker said.

"I read this and realized how much work went into this," he said as he held a copy of the USDA's draft plan in his hand. He said with the development of a microchip, the government will be able to track cattle in a way that it was unable to before.

"When they make it mandatory, they'll say you'll have to tag your animal. They'll cut your funding until you say 'uncle.' They can come on your property and fine the heck out of you. We have to stop this before it gets mandatory," he said. He said one of the methods would be using neighbors to report untagged cattle, for which they'd get a monetary reward.

Parker said the major meetings held by the USDA, which received high approval numbers, did not include many small farmers who are the people the NAIS will hurt. The USDA states there is broad support for the NAIS among government, industry and public stake holders.

Parker said grant money is being given out to organizations, such as cattlemen's and equine associations, to sign up members' premises, and that's why they're not opposing it. He said a Freedom of Information request in Texas revealed this to be the case with Texas Extension offices and cattlemen's associations. "They're herding everyone into a program without telling them the result," he said.

"Who benefits? Big corporate agriculture, exporters, ear tag manufacturers, electronics manufactures and thousands of new government employees that will be hired to execute animal ID," Parker said.

He said the system will lead to vertical integration in the industry, putting the meat packers in control of overall production from birth to slaughter.

Parker said it has already happened with the poultry industry with farmers raising chickens for a certain company that handles the gathering, killing and packing of the chickens. He said the beef industry will likely follow the same path if the NAIS is implemented.

Parker said the USDA has been avoiding telling the public the cost. He said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johann would never answer the question directly in interveiws. He said there are approximately 80 to 90 million head of cattle in the U.S.; the cost of implementing an identification system for all of them would be so huge they don't want the people to know.

"The Ozarks will be especially hard hit because of our great numbers of small farms that won't be able to keep up with the records and the expenses required. Proponents of this plan readily admit that many small producers will be forced out of business," Parker said.

Parker said a low frequency microchip is what is currently being proposed. Someone could scan the microchip from 30 inches away, he said. He said the USDA wants to develop something that can be picked up from a satellite.

Parker said the program would not be so bad if it were voluntary and that a voluntary system could be helpful to farmers on the world stage. "I don't think the government should pay for it. I don't want the government handling voluntary programs," he said.

The draft from the USDA states that a 3-to-1 ratio of individuals who spoke about the NAIS at listening sessions prefer a mandatory program or one that becomes mandatory to a purely voluntary program.

But Parker said the USDA's program is a way to push small farmers out of business. The draft says producers prefer the funding to come from public coffers, but it goes on to state that there will still be a cost to the producers to implement the system.

Parker said there has been a media blackout on NAIS information. Parker said those who are concerned should write to their local media. "We've got to get the word out there," he said. Parker said this method helped catch the attention of KY3 television station in Springfield, Mo., which featured him in a story about the NAIS. He has also been a guest on the Derry Brownfield radio show.

"We need to inform people in the cities," Mike Barnett of Salem said. He said in the city they couldn't care less about farming, but if they are made aware of the repercussions on themselves, such as higher food prices, then they might come out against it as well.

"Any time you regulate something, you'll get less of it," Parker said.

Citizens will be able to comment on the NAIS when it appears in the federal register. There will be a comment period of 60 days.

"We need to start electing people who will stop this. They have no idea what we do out here to make a living," Parker said, which brought applause from the audience.

Parker said there are likely liability issues if such a system become mandatory, such as lawyers suing everyone along the traceback path of a sick cow who has a chip. There are also confidentiality issues, with hackers possibly manipulating the data.

Parker said he also has religious reasons to oppose the plan. He said the Book of Revelations in the Bible mentions the "mark of the beast."

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