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Lone cattleman develops Web site to oppose NAIS

Article from Wilson County News

Pat Kopecki
Wilson County News
March 31, 2009

As the controversy of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) continues to divide the agriculture industry, one man is leading a campaign against the program by not only writing letters to congressmen, but also by starting up a Web site and contributing articles he has written.

Darol Dickinson, manager of the family-owned Dickinson Cattle Co. Inc., runs one of the 50 largest registered cattle ranches in the United States, numbering 1,600 registered cattle. He is also involved in livestock marketing, retail meat sales, cattle feeding, and exporting to more than 20 countries.

As proposed, when and if implemented, the National Animal Identification System will allow state health agencies, in the event of a disease outbreak, to trace the movement of an animal back to the place of origin within 48 hours.

The issue of the accuracy of recording each movement of an animal has been questioned and is a concern of cattlemen, including Dickinson.

Dickinson brought up a January 2007 experience as one of the reasons why he is opposed to the NAIS program while being interviewed for this article.

He said in 2007, he was visited by a member of the Agriculture Department, not for a disease outbreak, but because of a clerical error. The error involved an interstate movement of breeding cattle sold in January 2006, in which the veterinarian did not list the proper number required on the certificate of veterinary inspection as needed for interstate movement of animals.

Dickinson wrote about this incident in the article, “Chasing a cow over five states,” detailing the happenings of what he experienced to warn others of the federal penalties the National Animal Identification System may lead to if the program should become mandatory.

At the present time, the National Animal Identification Program is voluntary, except in four states where legislation has implemented a mandatory program to assist in the control of certain diseases.

“The fines and penalties for USDA are very nebulous. They have the ability to ‘stack’ their charges like no other enforcement agency. For instance, you transport a critter over state lines and the USDA licensed veterinarian fills out the health certificate incorrectly … you may be charged for not knowing he did it wrong,” Dickinson said. “When they can’t make their case, they hold it in a file and threaten in a future date to bring it up again and attach it to another minor violation making a ‘stacked’ charge on one of their rules.”

After Dickinson refused to plead no contest and pay $1,000 in fines, the case was dropped six months later. Dickinson said the U.S. Department of Agriculture will keep the case on file and add it to the next violation “to create a really bad violation.” He said the vet was called before a hearing court in Oklahoma and was hammered verbally.

Dickinson also questions if the movement of animals can accurately be recorded by the databases, since the average steer in the United States now has eight owners during its lifetime, with the consumer being No. 8. With the animal identification program, six computer entries will be required, giving many opportunities for errors, he said.

Dickinson released a second article in October 2008 titled, “NAIS — the Fourth Component,” which he said is enforcement. Dickinson reviewed the fines that may be imposed if and when the animal identification program becomes mandatory, ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 and more, citing U.S. Code, Title 7, found on the Web site of the Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute.

“One could be fined in county court $1,000 for a 70-mile-per-hour speed violation through a school zone, yet $50,000 for crossing a state line with one number incorrect on a USDA- issued livestock health certificate — for a perfectly healthy child’s pony!” Dickinson wrote.

Dickinson wrote the second article since he believes that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is a “law-making branch of the federal government that can take a simple parking violation and make it into a hanging offense. One fine from Investigative and Enforcement Services can devastate a family farm completely and it doesn’t have to involve any serious violation.”

“The APHIS site changes like a baby diaper. It is a moving target and referred to as a ‘living’ document. They can add or remove at any time. It is not designed to understand. Undefined words allow APHIS to interpret as they wish,” Dickinson
said.

Dickinson’s article and others can be found on his Web site http://wwwnaisSTINKS.com, which contains articles, cartoons, posters, and quotes in opposition to the National Animal Identification System. It is an “attempt to set the record straight from the twisted press releases USDA sends to media daily,” Dickinson said. He considers the site as “a self-defense site to preserve our family livestock business.”

“I want to save the ranch I have worked to build for 42 years for my grandchildren and I don’t want to be destroyed by the federales,” he said.

At the present time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Web site states, “There are no Federal penalties or other ‘enforcement’ mechanisms associated with the NAIS.”

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