USDA Listening Sessions Public Comments
N.A.I.S., Friend and Foe
By Lynn Stuter
June 30, 2009
On June 6, 2006, NewsWithViews.com published an article I wrote concerning the National Animal Identification System or NAIS. In that article, some of the history of NAIS was touched on as well as the international component and the fact that NAIS was the brainchild of both government and private agricultural industry.
In a document entitled Summary and Future Action, from the LCI National Livestock Identification Symposium, 1994, we find some of the players instrumental in bringing NAIS about:
• Nancy Robinson, NLIS (See note)
• Glenn Slack, LCI (Livestock Conservation Institute)
• Ken Olson, American Farm Bureau Federation
• Beth Lautner, National Pork Producers Council
• Neil Hammerschmidt, Holstein Association
• Fred Bauer or Bower (they couldn't decide how to spell his name), International Llama Registry
• Chuck Sattler, National Association of Animal Breeders
• Neil Anderson, American Sheep Industry
• Arne Nielson, MAGTAG I/S
• Glenn Fisher, Allflex
• John Weimers, USDA
• Vern Taylor, Trace-em
Note: While Nancy Robinson is listed as being from NLIS, her actual résumé, courtesy of Livestock Marketing Association, reads as follows: "Vice President Government & Industry Affairs, Livestock Marketing Association … grew up in Kansas and received her bachelors and masters degrees from Fort Hays University in Hays, Kansas. She worked for a number of years in Washington DC as a congressional staff aide and political appointee at USDA in food safety and animal health agencies. In 1989, Nancy joined LMA as the Vice President for Government & Industry Affairs, representing the LMA membership and the marketing industry on all federal legislative and regulatory matters. She also provides support to the region executive officers on state legislative and regulatory matters."
Following the 1994 LCI National Livestock Identification Symposium, LCI became the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA).
According to a document, on file at the Iowa State University Library, the Livestock Conservation Institute came about in 1951 as the result of the consolidation of other previously established organizations. The LCI website carried the URL of www.lcionline.org. While LCI no longer exists, if you click on the URL, it will redirect to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) website.
The registrant of lcionline.org is, according to Network Solutions, Livestock Conservation Institute (LCI), 1910 Lyda Drive, Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is the former address of the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA) before they moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado.
And, according to Network Solutions, the Administrative and Technical contact for LCI is someone named Dave Francis at 600 Maryland Ave SW, Ste 1000W, Washington, DC. This, of course, is the address of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
It becomes very apparent that the lines between LCI, AFBF and NIAA are blurred; as such, where one ends and the other begins is questionable. Karin Bergener commented on this in her article "Sold Out by Farm Bureau" in February 2007,
"For a fun-filled afternoon, try tracing all the interwoven boards among the organizations involved in developing the NAIS, and how their staff move from one organization to another - a consultant one year, an employee of another company the next, and then a government worker. You already have a start with Farm Bureau's Jim Fraley and David Miller as members of the NIAA board of directors, to which you can add Jon Johnson of Texas Farm Bureau. Another prime example is Kevin Kirk, who began his career with Farm Bureau, and is now NIAA treasurer, and also the person responsible for implementing premises registration and mandatory radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on cattle, in his job with the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the beginning of NAIS in Michigan."
On the main page of the NIAA website, running across the top, is a banner which reads "Vilsack open to mandatory livestock traceback …". How long the banner has been there isn't known but the corresponding story was posted by Reuters on March 27, 2009; two months ago.
The article makes no bones about the government's intent to make NAIS mandatory, going so far as to quote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (former governor of Iowa) as saying …
"I'm hopeful that we can bring people in and lay out on the table what are your concerns about a mandatory system … Let's work through them and see if we can get to a point where we can then fashion a mandatory system that would do the job and would work."
On the membership page of the NIAA website is a litany of nation-wide organizations that obviously support NAIS as members of NIAA, among them some of the more recognizable groups familiar to farmers and ranchers across the nation:
• American Farm Bureau Federation
• American Quarter Horse Association
• Dairy Farmers of America
• Livestock Marketing Association
• National Cattlemen's Beef Association
• National Livestock Producers Association
Listed on the membership page of the NIAA website under state member organizations are the Farm Bureau groups from Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
State Agricultural Departments (or the equivalent) having membership in NIAA include Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington (state), West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
And while all the organizations listed support NAIS, what about the small farmers and ranchers, who will be effectively put of business if NAIS is implemented. Do they want NAIS, and do the nation-wide organizations to which they might belong represent them on the issue of NAIS?
In January 2009, the USDA posted proposed new rules in the Federal Register that would, in effect, make NAIS mandatory. The actual rules can be read by going to this website, and clicking on the .html or .pdf symbols on the right side of the first line where "proposed rules" is listed under "type" of document.
The USDA provided a comment period, ending March 16, 2009, for people who wanted to comment on the new rules.
Approximately 9,000 people commented, and the comments were pretty much along the lines of "no how … no way … no to NAIS."
On May 1, 2009, the USDA then published in the federal register a notice …
"to inform the public of seven upcoming meetings to discuss stakeholder concerns related to the implementation of the National Animal Identification System."
Read that very carefully for what it does say and for what it does not say. What it does not say is that the hearings are to discuss whether "stakeholders" want NAIS, but only what their "concerns related to the implementation of" NAIS are. This makes it very obvious that USDA is going to push NAIS through, making it mandatory, whether the "stakeholders" want it or not. While USDA may think farmers and ranchers a tad backward, uncultured and uneducated, that fact has not been lost on them, which USDA discovered to their angst the hard way.
The notice goes on to specify the areas in which USDA seeks the concerns of "stakeholders" in the implementation of NAIS: cost, impact on small farmers, privacy and confidentiality, liability, premises registration, animal identification and animal tracing.
At the hearings, many of which have now been held, the USDA got an earful from farmers and ranchers regarding NAIS, and the message, loud and clear, like the majority of the 9,000 comments to the regulations.gov site, was "no how … no way … no to NAIS"; one gentlemen going so far as to ask the USDA officials "what part of 'no' do you not understand?" He went on to call the listening sessions a "dog and pony show," telling USDA officials present that they knew full well that they already had their minds made up about NAIS, that they fully intended to implement it whether the people liked it or wanted it.
Bob Parker, a rancher in Missouri, spoke at one of the USDA hearings. Parker found himself voted off the county Farm Bureau board when he confronted them about the information they were not putting out about NAIS as opposed to a letter sent to the USDA in support of mandatory implementation.
Parker also commented on how Farm Bureau calls itself a grassroots organization, yet none of the county Farm Bureau organizations in Missouri had seen the letter of support sent to the USDA by the Missouri State Farm Bureau. He challenged the Missouri Farm Bureau president to a debate any time; he wasn't taken up on his challenge.
Parker commented that while NAIS has been in the works for 15 years, this was the first time the little guy had been given a chance to speak; after all the big guys got together and decided who, what, when, where and how much, they now condescended to give the little guy a chance to speak; not a voice but a chance to speak.
Some states—Utah, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, and Nebraska—have passed legislation banning mandatory premise and animal identification; other states—Illinois, Montana, and Texas—are considering similar proposals. However, the proposed rules, published in the Federal Register and accessible here, on page 1638,
"This proposed rule has been reviewed under Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform. If this proposed rule is adopted: (1) All State and local laws and regulations that are in conflict with this rule will be preempted; (2) no retroactive effect will be given to this rule; and (3) administrative proceedings will not be required before parties may file suit in court challenging this rule."
When legislation to outlaw NAIS in Arkansas was introduced, Farm Bureau worked behind the scenes to defeat it. In Washington state, in January 2007, legislation was introduced to bar implementation of NAIS in the state. Three months after it was introduced, one of its sponsors introduced a striker that effectively gutted the bill. Did the striker have anything to do with the sponsor's affiliation with Farm Bureau?
A USDA listening session was held in Pasco, Washington on May 18, 2009. Did Farm Bureau notify their members? No, they didn't. Why not? In the words of one Farm Bureau official,
"We do have a cattle committee and if they thought it was important they would have been there… If they didn't go it was probably because they know that AFBF will follow policy and have our backs covered."
If the Washington Farm Bureau supports voluntary NAIS as they claim, and the hearings concerned rules to effectively make NAIS mandatory for all livestock producers, not just cattle, one would think they would be notifying their members, encouraging them to attend and voice their support for, at the least, a voluntary NAIS. Not only this, but Washington Farm Bureau claims to be one of the primary protectors of property rights. What is more intrusive to the property rights of livestock producers than premises identification through GPS coordinates and the assigning of a premise identifier such that all animals on that property can be identified to that property and their movements off that property reported to the government within 24 hours? As one individual who testified stated, "My property and what animals are on my property is none of the government's business!" A sentiment shared by an overwhelming majority of small livestock producing operations.
And to be fair, the Washington Farm Bureau should not be singled out for their failure to notify their members; members of Farm Bureau in other states were likewise not notified of the hearings.
As far as the Washington Farm Bureau official's reference to AFBF, this is the same AFBF that helped bring NAIS about, whose lines with concern to the Livestock Conservation Institute (LCI) that became the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA) are blurred; this is the same AFBF that is now a member of NIAA that is running the banner across their main page about Ag Secretary Vilsack being open to mandatory livestock traceback.
But in light of AFBF's involvement in NIAA, what exactly is their policy on NAIS? A trek through the AFBF website produced no section that delineates their policies. If the AFBF policy, with concern to NAIS, is on their website, it is not readily apparent to anyone seeking it.
A search of the AFBF website for "NAIS" turned up exactly four relevant articles, none of which disclosed what AFBF's policy is concerning NAIS, yet the AFBF website claims to be "The Voice of Agriculture."
In one article, (January 2007) USDA undersecretary, Bruce Knight tells producers "It’s a voluntary program, and it’s not going to go mandatory" citing the backlash from producers if that happened. Unfortunately, the government has a track record of telling tall tales; too many times they have claimed one thing, then done just the opposite. No better evidence of this is to be found than the words of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack two years and two months later in the Reuter's Article of March 27, 2009. Then there is the home page of the USDA/APHIS/NAIS website sports the government's laudatory approval that "Wisconsin [is] leading the way in animal identification." Wisconsin is one of two states that has made NAIS mandatory. Read this article about the enforcement prosecutions that are already occurring in Wisconsin regarding NAIS. The amount of money to be made in enforcement will put small producers out of business, forcing the sale of their homes and property to satisfy fines and legal fees.
On June 20, 2009, in response to the pulling of money for NAIS from the USDA budget by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, the Illinois Farm Bureau had this to say,
"Farm Bureau supports restoration of funding for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) withheld by the subcommittee, calling NAIS 'a critical program designed to protect animal health through streamlined surveillance and response.'"
Further that …
"Once the series of hearings is concluded at the end of the month, we expect USDA to decide to implement the program in some way, so it makes sense to have money appropriated for that purpose."
What part of "no" does Farm Bureau not understand?
In his presentation at the USDA listening session, David Pfrang, recent past president of the Kansas Cattlemen's Association, had this to say about the Kansas Farm Bureau,
"In 2004 the Kansas Legislature tried to pass mandatory Kansas premise I.D. through the backing of Kansas Livestock Assoc., Farm Bureau and Sea Board. It failed Big Time because we, the producers, fought just as we are fighting back today."
When Rhonda Perry of Howard County, Missouri testified at the USDA listening session, representing herself as a small livestock producer and 5600 families of the Missouri Rural Crises Center, the points she made are salient:
1. NAIS is a solution in search of a problem;
2. the problems NAIS is intended to address come from the processing plants, imported meat, and large industrial livestock operations that are wreaking havoc in rural areas, none of which is the fault of the small producer;
3. it is these very operations that the government is supplementing, in one way or another, with taxpayer money while ignoring the problems inherent with the operations; yet it is the small producer who the USDA is trying to saddle with this costly program;
4. while NAIS cannot track the bad product from the processing plant to the consumer, which is what needs to be done, NAIS wants to track the product from the processing plant back to the producer when what happens at the processing plant it is not the fault of the producers.
Her testimony was right on the mark and makes it very apparent that NAIS is not about animal health, consumer health, international markets, traceability or terrorism, NAIS is about money, power and control, all intended to put the small producer out of business.
Small producers are looking to those who will fight the implementation of NAIS. Many websites now exist on the internet to help them do that. Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance has authored a document, Review of National Animal Identification System, which is an excellent source for those wishing to understand NAIS or seeking information to help others understand NAIS. NAISinfocentral has information and documents helpful to livestock producers nationwide, including many documents published by the USDA.
One former Farm Bureau member in Arkansas told me that small producers are joining organizations that will fight NAIS; that membership in R-CALF has grown substantially as a result. The sentiments of Arkansas small producers is echoed in other states.
If you have not already done so, please consider going to the Regulations.gov website and leaving your comments concerning NAIS. How long this option will last is unknown.
© 2009 Lynn M. Stuter - All Rights Reserved