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R-CALF: Groups Urge Congress To Immediately Halt Any Further Advancement Of NAIS

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Washington, D.C. – In formal correspondence sent today to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, two national groups and nine others – all from different states – requested that Congress immediately halt any further advancement of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and to conduct an oversight hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) NAIS activities to carefully and deliberately investigate the full ramifications of USDA’s NAIS-related actions and proposals.

“USDA’s procedures for advancing and implementing NAIS are improper, if not outright unlawful, and yet, Congress continues to appropriate funding for NAIS, subjecting U.S. farmers and ranchers to extraordinary pressure from USDA to assist the agency in its implementation of an unproven, questionable and potentially cost-prohibitive program that Congress itself has not seen fit to authorize,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry.

The groups – R-CALF USA, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, Independent Cattlemen of Iowa, Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming, Buckeye Quality Beef Association, Oregon Livestock Producers Association, Colorado Independent CattleGrowers (sic) Association, Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, Independent Beef Association of North Dakota and the Cornucopia Institute – assert that:

* USDA has misrepresented Privacy Act protections to U.S. livestock producers when as early as August 2006, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns assured producers their information was protected under the Privacy Act and could not and would not be released, which was false. USDA did not attempt to secure NAIS data under the Privacy Act system of records until April 30, 2008. Additionally, it remains uncertain as to whether such records are entitled to Privacy Act protections.

* USDA has improperly acquired premises registrations by registering premises without farmer or rancher consent. Evidence shows there are likely thousands of citizens whose premises were registered in the NAIS directory against their will or without their knowledge. In Idaho, for example, citizens’ information was obtained by tapping into the state’s brand database and summarily assigning numbers to brand owners. Also, improper tactics have been directed at minors involved in 4-H to secure NAIS registrations. Therefore, USDA cannot claim that NAIS is voluntary when its own cooperators and contractors are mandating NAIS participation.

* Several states have found it necessary to pass legislation to protect citizens from USDA’s NAIS-related advances that promote government-sanctioned animal identification systems. Nebraska passed a law that provides a formalized procedure for citizens to withdraw their premises registrations should the state establish an NAIS-type animal identification system. Kentucky passed a law to prevent release of its citizens’ confidential information for the purposes of NAIS. Arizona passed a law to prohibit the state from mandating, or otherwise forcing, participation in NAIS. Missouri passed a law to prohibit the state from mandating, or otherwise forcing, citizens to comply with NAIS premises registration and to authorize citizens to withdraw from NAIS at any time.

* USDA is proceeding without regard to stakeholder cost, liability and confidentiality concerns. Livestock producers already operate on extremely tight profit margins and there have been no studies to determine if NAIS is economically feasible for family farmers and ranchers. The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) predicts economic returns to producers will remain negative and could hit -$51.87 per cow by 2012. USDA also claims the sole purpose of NAIS is to have the information to trace an animal disease incident within 48 hours. However, in its Business Plan to Advance NAIS, USDA states it intends to assist meatpackers in transferring NAIS information to carcasses.

“This new purpose for NAIS bears the unmitigated potential to expose individual producers to liability for problems that occur after an animal leaves the farm, which could prove financially devastating to producers should meatpackers or others attempt to share fault along the entire chain of custody for problems they have created themselves,” Thornsberry warned.

* USDA’s ongoing NAIS activities usurp congressional authority and potentially violate Administrative Procedures Act rules.

“Though numerous bills have been introduced in Congress to authorize USDA to establish some sort of animal identification system, Congress has not acted to delegate any such authorization to USDA,” Thornsberry concluded. “R-CALF and many other groups have repeatedly appealed to Congress to cease any further advancement of NAIS, but our requests have gone unheeded. Now we are respectfully, but strongly, urging Congress to immediately halt further advancement of NAIS and to conduct an oversight hearing on USDA’s NAIS activities so that the full ramifications of USDA’s NAIS-related actions can be carefully and deliberately investigated.”

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