Magazine article The New American

Need-to-Know Info on Animal ID: The USDA Has Targeted Farms and Livestock Facilities, and Their Livestock, for Intrusive, Unnecessary, and Eventually Mandatory Identification and Tracking Regulations

Magazine article The New American

Need-to-Know Info on Animal ID: The USDA Has Targeted Farms and Livestock Facilities, and Their Livestock, for Intrusive, Unnecessary, and Eventually Mandatory Identification and Tracking Regulations

Article excerpt

The United States Department of Agriculture would have you believe Americans are at high risk from being infected with one or more animal-borne diseases--such as mad cow disease and Asian bird flu.

The USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) promises animal tracking from birth through death to stave off the transmission of these diseases. Animals will be identified using a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, or other type of identification mechanism. Species to be covered by the system include cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas, and alpacas.

The USDA claims the NAIS is necessary to help make our food safe, and they have done a good job of marketing the program. A thoughtful examination of the facts, however, reveals the NAIS is not as portrayed.

Is the NAIS Legal?

The NAIS is patently illegal, posing problems on several constitutional fronts.

The NAIS is clearly in opposition to the search and seizure laws upheld by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If the NAIS is implemented, USDA officials will not need a warrant to enter a premises to inspect animals; they will be able to enter private property whenever they deem it "necessary." Also, the NAIS Draft Program Standards (DPS) indicate that identification will include the GPS coordinates of the premises where the animals are kept. According to Mary Zanoni, who holds a law degree from Yale and is now the executive director of Farm for Life, a nonprofit organization supporting small-scale and sustainable agriculture, legal precedents define GPS monitoring as an illegal search of citizens' homes.

As if that weren't enough, the NAIS also has the potential to violate both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which state that no one can be deprived of property without due process of law. The USDA claims the right to remove animals from a premises, and it makes no mention of remuneration to the rancher.

"The federal government doesn't have jurisdiction to come onto your private property and put a tag on your animal," said former Congressman Helen Chenoweth-Hage. "It's a due process issue." But, she said, the feds have a long history of overlooking the constitutional protections for life, liberty, and property.

The USDA is ignoring the illegality of the NAIS and is trying to convince states and agricultural groups that the NAIS is necessary, promoting it under three flagship tactics: disease, terrorism, and market competitiveness.

Will the NAIS Prevent Disease?

The spread of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or "mad cow disease," is the most prominent mantra of the USDA when promoting the NAIS. The truth is that the NAIS is not necessary for the control of BSE. In 1998, a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study (commissioned by the USDA) concluded that, if BSE were introduced into the United States, due to the preventive measures already in place, it would be extremely unlikely to become established here. According to the Harvard study, "Measures in the U.S. that are most effective at reducing the spread of BSE include the ban on the import of live ruminants and ruminant meat and bone meal from the UK (since 1989) and all of Europe (since 1997) by USDA/APHIS, and the feed ban instituted by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997 to prevent recycling of potentially infectious cattle tissues. This feed ban greatly reduces the chance that BSE will spread from a sick animal back to other cattle through feed." Of the three BSE-positive cows in the United States, not one entered the food supply (and at least one came from Canada, which ironically already has a system similar to the NAIS).

Not only does the United States already have measures in place to protect the food supply from BSE, but worldwide, BSE is a diminishing threat. Cases of BSE have declined about 50 percent per year over the last three years, with only 474 animals dying of BSE in 2005. …

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