USDA Listening Sessions Public Comments
Letter from Langdon: I'd Like to Testify
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is holding 'listening sessions' on its plan to tag farm animals. Yonder writer Richard Oswald drives to Jefferson City, Missouri, to testify.
By Richard Oswald
Rural America may not agree on much, but nobody seems to like the prospect of putting an ID tag on every farm animal.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is holding what it calls “listening sessions” around the country about its plans for a National Animal Identification System, or NAIS. The system would require farmers and livestock raisers to tag each of their animals with an identifying number. (The system would require radio frequency tags on each animal.) The USDA says that by identifying each animal, the agency will be able quickly to “trace an animal disease to its source.”
Today, the USDA will hold a listening session in Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri, and Yonder correspondent Richard Oswald will be there to give his testimony about NAIS and American agriculture. Oswald opposes NAIS — a position widely held by rural residents, as you can see from stories about “listening sessions” in Louisville, Austin, Loveland (CO) and Pasco (WA). Below is the testimony Oswald (author of the “Letter From Langdon”) prepared for today. See a story about the Missouri hearing here.
The NAIS program has stirred one of the largest protest movements we’ve seen in rural America and among urban consumers. Richard explains how the proposal to tag every farm animal has created a national furor.
I would like to thank USDA and NAIS for the opportunity to testify against mandatory animal ID at all the listening sessions held across the country.
I’d like to thank them, but I won’t.
In order to attend the listening session in Jefferson City on June 9th, I would have to leave home no later than four in the morning. Instead, I’ll drive down the night before and pay for a hotel room just so I can be rested for the meeting and for the drive back home that night.
I’ll drive nearly 600 miles in my farm pickup, spend almost 10 hours on the road and buy 40 gallons of fuel at about $2.35 per gallon. I’ll eat four meals away from home. I, and many others like me, will pay our own way and lose work time on the farm, just so we can testify against mandatory animal ID.
The first USDA listening session was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Only four people spoke in favor of NAIS; 27 testified against the animal ID policy. Guards were present at the hearing.
I’d like to thank USDA, whose employees were paid not only their usual salaries to hold the listening session, but per diem and travel expenses, to say nothing of the employees of the corporate proponents of animal ID who are probably reimbursed at least as well, who probably ate a Kansas City strip for dinner last night because they were on the company tab. I wish I could feel gratitude simply for being included, but what I really feel is that regardless of the outcome, I have been robbed.
I was robbed of time with my family, of work, of miles on my farm truck which will wear out way too soon as it is, and of all the money I’ll spend just to get there and back when I would rather not have spent it (at least not like that) at all.
The whole time farmers and ranchers are working to do our jobs, we are subjected to a propaganda campaign with the outrageous message that the same folks who give us salmonella-infected food and 10,000-head livestock confinement outfits are more efficient than family farms of a smaller size.
We give CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tax credits and EQIP grants (USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program) to help them deal with floods of manure created purely by their own excess.
We allow big packers and processors to be self inspected because government inspection is too cumbersome to cope.
We watch as millions of pounds of contaminated beef are recalled even though most is already consumed before the results of testing, or numbers of sickened consumers, are known.
We accept imports of food that we know are contaminated with antibiotics and illegal, even poisonous, additives, all in the name of “free trade,” and we rely on watch dog groups to keep us advised of the facts because our government says that unenforced “guidelines” and “treaties” are good enough.
When big retailers book huge profits from meat grown at a loss on American farms there were no hearings or listening sessions about the reasons for such a disparity between the price farmers received versus that which consumers paid. The government acts as though hiding livestock inventories across foreign borders (where they aren’t reported) or behind contractual agreements is a right of big business and has no impact on markets.
Yet, when disease originates outside the U.S. and comes here, we are told that we must reveal in the most exacting of ways what livestock we have and where they are daily, even though ours are not the livestock causing the problem in the first place. Get this: Imported animals and CAFO-raised livestock won’t be required to have individual animal IDs like our animals, because they will come from farms so large that they’d only have to have one number for thousands of head, or maybe no number at all.
We are told we mustn’t do anything to harm efficiencies of scale — or of profits.
Yet, when small farmers and ranchers can no longer sustain their families through honest labor, there are no coast-to-coast listening sessions to inquire why profits disappeared even though there are more hungry world consumers than ever before.
We already know the answer even without government “fact finding.”
After months, even years, of hearing first that animal ID would be good for markets, then that it was needed to protect against terrorism, next that it would control food contamination, and now that we need it to prevent disease, I am exhausted by unending propaganda and unlimited excuse.
Farmers and ranchers see NAIS as part of a larger movement to limit competition and replace small farmers with larger ag operations. One anti-NAIS poster equates animal tagging with the Monsanto Company's ownership of seed.
We independent farmers and ranchers have told our government repeatedly that this is bad. When a country like the United States can publish the locations of more than 260 of its nuclear assets on the Internet, it can never hope to keep the location and numbers of tagged farm animals across this broad nation a secret from big agribusiness, located here and in foreign lands. That’s especially true when those records are stored by an agency — the USDA — equipped with too many revolving doors connecting big business and government.
I’d like to thank USDA, but what they propose won’t make livestock healthy, it won’t create more competition in the marketplace, it won’t keep America safer, and it won’t improve my profits. I’d like to thank USDA, but what their plan offers to do is increase my costs, wrap me in red tape, and make it impossible for me to earn a living producing food while it grants control of that production to corporate giants.
So I’ll save my thanks for when they go back to being government for the people, and finally restore my right to do honorable work for a free nation.
Editor's Note: To give your opinion to the USDA about NAIS, go here.
Additional hearings will be held in June in the locations below. For a schedule of each hearing, go here.
Holiday Inn Rapid City, Rushmore Plaza
505 North Fifth Street
Rapid City, South Dakota 57709
Route 66 Casino & Conference Center
14500 Central Avenue, SW
Albuquerque, NM 87121
TBA - Riverside, CA
Jane S. McKimmon Center
1101 Gorman Street
Raleigh, NC 27606
Hamilton County Extension
1143 NW US Hwy 41
Jasper, FL 32052