Suit Targets USDA and Michigan Department of Agriculture
Web Editor’s Note - The opening sentence of this press release should have read: “Attorneys for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund today mailed the complaint to file suit in the U.S. District Court…”
Falls Church, Virginia, (July 14, 2008) -- Attorneys for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund today filed suit in the U.S. District Court – District of Columbia to stop the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) from implementing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), a plan to electronically track every livestock animal in the country.
The MDA has implemented the first two stages of NAIS – property registration and animal identification – for all cattle and farmers across the state as part of a mandatory bovine tuberculosis disease control program required by a grant from the USDA.
The suit asks the court to issue an injunction to stop the implementation of NAIS at either the state or federal levels by any state or federal agency. If successful, the suit would halt the program nationwide.
“We think that current disease reporting procedures and animal tracking methods provide the kind of information health officials need to respond to animal disease events,” explained Fund President Taaron Meikle.
“At a time when the job of protecting our food safety is woefully underfunded, the USDA has spent over $118 million on just the beginning stages of a so-called voluntary program that ultimately seeks to register every horse, chicken, cow, goat, sheep, pig, llama, alpaca or other livestock animal in a national database--more than 120 million animals. It’s a program that only a bureaucrat could love.” she added.
Meikle noted that existing programs for diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and scrapie together with state laws on branding and the existing record keeping by sales barns and livestock shows provide the mechanisms needed for tracking any disease outbreaks.
She said the suit charges that USDA has never published rules regarding NAIS, in violation of the Federal Administrative Procedures Act; has never performed an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act; is in violation of the Regulatory Flexibility Act that requires the USDA to analyze proposed rules for their impact on small entities and local governments; and violates religious freedoms guaranteed by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
“Other mandatory implementations, which weave NAIS into existing regulatory fabric and programs, have occurred in the States of Wisconsin and Indiana where premises registration has been made mandatory; in drought-stricken North Carolina and Tennessee, where farmers have been required to register their premises in order to obtain hay relief; and in Colorado where state fairs are requiring participants to register their premises under NAIS,” explained Judith McGeary, a member of the Farm-to-Consumer Fund board and the executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.
“We are asking the court to immediately halt implementation of the program nationwide before more farmers and ranchers are strong-armed into participating in a program that the USDA has called voluntary.”
McGeary also questioned the accuracy of the existing database noting that an attempt by the USDA to make the information in the NAIS database subject to Privacy Act safeguards thereby removing them from public scrutiny was suspended indefinitely in a ruling last month by the same federal court that will hear arguments in the current suit. That suit had been filed by a journalist seeking access to the database to determine its accuracy.