First NAIS Listening Session by USDA/APHIS
From: Darol Dickinson
740 758 5050
Article from The Proud Political Junkie's Gazette
The first listening session hour began with a power point as USDA leaders spoke on the many theories of NAIS.
Neil Hammerschmidt, believed to be the driving force behind NAIS, carefully articulated virtues and protective benefits for livestock producers.
Security guards were on duty at all times during the listening sessions.
The head table featured l to r, Neil Hammerschmidt, Jeri Dick, and John Weimer.
Security guards were alerted to possible disturbances among farmers with planned dispatching.
USDA’s Larry Miller led one of 3 break-out afternoon sessions.
Extra security guards were on site in case of a major problem with livestock producers.
The furthest attendee was from Oregon. Speakers were provided 3 minutes to present their concerns.
Harrisburg, Pa—the first of a series of NAIS Listening Sessions was held today at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center, Harrisburg, Pa. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stated, “I encourage individuals and organizations to voice their concerns, ideas and potential solutions about animal identification.” And—voice concerns they did!
The Pennsylvania location was a choice spot for this first national effort by USDA. The Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture has been mellowed by USDA with $2,127,411 of cooperative agreements directly for the purpose of NAIS property enrollments. The state’s generous grants were successful in energizing one of the highest percentages of farm enrollments of any state, not counting Massachusetts, who according to USDA records have a 227.1% enrollment.
Pennsylvania should have a very high percentage of favorable NAIS listening session enrollees, but it didn’t happen.
Those responding to the invitation to “voice their concerns” requested formal speaking time up to 2 weeks in advance and signed up a second time this morning on arrival. Each hopeful speaker got to speak up to 3 minutes if their name was drawn. A total of 187 people requested to speak and 36 actually were successful.
The beginning agenda allowed for senior USDA staff to cajole the perceived merits of NAIS for a scheduled one hour period. Staff members Jere Dick, Neil Hammerschmidt, and John Weimer defined the goals and theory of the troubled program.
Crowd control was a consideration. Due to the “touchy” nature of this USDA effort up to eight law enforcement officers were positioned on perimeters of the Expo meeting room. Farmers and ranchers are normally law abiding country folk, so fortunately no arrests or altercations took place. USDA staff member and blue group leader, Larry Miller, requested speakers have a “respectful attitude” at all times during the process.
As approved presenters rapidly verbalized their three minute allotment, USDA staff were true listeners with seldom if any comment. Their reaction was somber regardless of the charged efforts of livestock producers, with many far from polite, and seasoned with colorful barn yard vernacular in many cases.
A large Amish delegation were represented offering passionate pleadings against mandatory NAIS. Others of faith expressed major concerns. Two livestock producers from Ohio attended, one lady from Oregon and most from within a five hour drive of the eastern Pennsylvania area.
Of the successful speakers, 27 were clearly opposed to NAIS and 4 spoke in favor. Three indicated they were enrolled in NAIS without their knowledge and one indicated they had enrolled by mistake and wish they had not. One lady said her husband enrolled against her will and now he understands.
Afternoon attendees were divided into three break-out groups with the assignment from Secretary Tom Vilsack (not present) “discussions will be less about concerns and more about ideas and solutions to create a NAIS that we can all live with.” Each group was to study seven questions and focus to identify workable solutions. The seven questions centered around, cost, impact on small farms, privacy and confidentiality, liability, premises registration, animal ID, and animal tracing. These are considered the most concerning objections to NAIS.
The three break-out groups recorded the following concerns:
- “There is no problem that NAIS will fix.”
- “Drop the program.”
- “Don’t use the word premises. I own property, not a premise.”
- “Trace only international imported and export animals.”
- “It is obvious enforcement is big with USDA by the looks of the police guards present here today. We are scared of your enforcements of NAIS mandatory on our farms.”
- “Leave us alone! I am just here to say, NO!”
- “We don’t trust USDA.”
- “USDA has a tarnished reputation of raiding family farms without cause. NAIS is designed to make farm raids more prevalent.”
- “If a government program isn’t worth doing, it is not worth doing right.”
- Statement to the break-out moderator, “Thank you for listening. The longer you listen—NAIS won’t be mandatory.”
- “NAIS is OK with me except for just one part—–MANDATORY.”
- “You have not been honest with us about the enrollment numbers for NAIS.”
- “USDA are amateur liars. I like to be lied to professionally.”
- “NAIS has a trust issue. We don’t trust NAIS.”
- An R-CALF USA eight point proposal for an alternative animal health program was recommended six times during the break-out session. (It was the only alternative solution offered.)
- “The country is in serious economical trouble. It is not the time to add more costs to farm production.”
- “Over 90% of farmers are opposed to NAIS. Will you still demand mandatory NAIS regardless of listening session results?
- “The USDA animal health program currently is effective, NAIS is not needed.”
- “Don’t call me a stakeholder. I am a land and horse owner. I am insulted by calling me a stakeholder. I am not holding the stakes for others.”
- “USDA should be working on vaccines to prevent disease instead of NAIS trace back.”
USDA’s John Weimer was asked about the results of the letter writing effort to USDA with a designated comment period about NAIS several months ago. Where were the results published? He did not recall the comment effort and did not know what happened to the hundreds of communications USDA received.
In the blue break-out group all speaking participants (43 total) were clearly opposed to NAIS. USDA’s group leader Larry Miller continued to redirect the emphasis from NAIS concerns, over to solution issues to make mandatory NAIS a palatable program. One dairy farmer said, “We have answered your questions. You are not listening. There is no way NAIS will work. No part of it will work. All seven questions are not solvable. Any people who want to do NAIS should be able to volunteer, but mandatory NAIS will cause bloodshed in the streets. We will refuse to surrender.”
Future USDA listening meetings on NAIS will be held at Pasco, WA, Austin, TX, Birmingham, AL, Louisville, KY, Storrs, CT, and Loveland, CO. Comments for those who may not be able to attend should be sent to the Federal eRulemaking Portal.