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NAIS Meeting Draws Impassioned Crowd

Chris Torres
Staff Writer

Article from Lancaster Farming

HARRISBURG, Pa. — If Thursday’s meeting on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) at the Farm Show Complex was any indication, then finding a solution to the question on a workable system is far from over.

Dozens of passionate and at times angry farmers and industry people showed up for the day-long meeting inside the complex’s large banquet room.

While it was the hope of USDA officials to get some consensus on the program, they instead got an earful from people who feel the agency has lost touch with their concerns and feel it will overburden them with paperwork and costs.

Each person was given three minutes to share their thoughts on the program, including one woman who donned a shirt that read “I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of.”

Most speakers, who identified themselves as either small farmers or supporting small farms, said the system is a potential infringement on civil liberties while others feel it violates religious freedoms of Plain Sect groups such as the Amish and Mennonites.

“This is an issue that I feel very strongly about,” said Dan Vaughan, a farmer from White Hall, Md. “This shows just how out of touch federal agriculture is with farmers. This is an issue that does not exist. There is no problem in the industry that needs to be fixed.”

“I understand the supposed benefit of being able to track where diseased animals have been,” said Maureen Diaz of Gettysburg, Pa. But she added that it won’t make a difference if the fundamental problems of good animal husbandry are not addressed first.

“Animal disease is not the problem of the small farmer. It is the problem of the factory farm, not the local farmer,” she said.

NAIS opponents were not the only ones making their voices heard. Supporters, while outnumbered, also shared their thoughts.

“An outbreak in Lancaster county can be destructive, easily wiping out the assets of our dairy farms,” said Joyce Bupp, a York County dairy farmer and corporate board director of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).

Bupp said 75 percent of dairy premises are already registered, including 90 percent in Lancaster County.

“The economic fallout of an outbreak can go to our neighboring counties and neighboring states,” she said. “An ID system is critically needed. An outbreak is a matter of when and not if. We need to be prepared to address a potential crisis.”

Thursday’s session was one of several NAIS “listening sessions” taking place around the country and the only one on the East Coast.

Organizers arranged the listening sessions as a way to get feedback directly from citizens on the implementation of NAIS, which according to Dr. Jerry Dick, a USDA veterinarian, is now in its fifth year of being worked on as the agency struggles to find a way to reach what they hope will be a consensus on how it can be implemented.

The program was proposed, according to Dick, in response to increasing concerns about diseases finding their way into the nation’s food system.

While it is a voluntary program, NAIS contains three components: premises registration, animal identification and traceback.

Anybody participating in the program would have their premises identified by a unique seven-digit number, which is designed to link animals to their location.

The animal ID component includes identifying animals or groups of animals using a 15-digit number. Individual animals would be identified via devices, including ear tags and injectable transponders.

Animals that stay on their premises and are custom slaughtered at the farm would not be required to be identified.

The traceback component includes keeping records of a specific animal’s location throughout its entire life. The records would be held in state and private animal tracking databases.

Neil Hammerschmidt, NAIS coordinator, said the intent of the program is to create a system that would enable traceability of a possible disease outbreak originating from farms or farm animals within 48 hours.

He added that animal disease control programs are quite extensive and that without ID, they will not be as successful.

But his comments failed to sway many people at the meeting who already have a deep distrust of the USDA and feel it fails to address fundamental problems with the way food is made and processed.

“NAIS should not be implemented for farmers who sell products directly to people,” said Kim Seeley, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and owner of Milky Way Farms in Bradford County. “If a mandatory system is implemented, I will make mention that the majority of farmers will choose civil disobedience in response. Our society is at a tipping point in food ideology right now.”

Tom Maurer, who runs a local farm market in Lebanon County, said the program is all about taking control from local farmers.

“It’s about control. It’s not about public health or safety,” Maurer said. “When we lose control of our money and our food system, we have lost our freedom. NAIS benefits very few people on the backs of many.”

Dave McIllhenny, a farmer from western Pennsylvania, who represented the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said the bureau supports a voluntary system but has concerns about its cost and educating producers.

On a personal note, he said the system is the most effective way for him to control problems on his farm before they happen.

“NAIS is the simplest, cheapest form of risk management to guard against diseases,” McIllhenny said.

 

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