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Central Texas farmers voice concerns on USDA program

By: Bonnie Gonzalez

Article from www.news8austin.com

The NAIS program would tag farmers' and ranchers' animals.  
The federal government has proposed a program to identify and track farm animals, and the move has some local ranchers and farmers unhappy.

At a U.S. Department of Agriculture hearing Wednesday, more than 100 farmers and ranchers voiced their concerns, many telling the government to butt out. The hearing was part of an effort by the USDA to get feedback from food producers in Central Texas and across the country. "We're talking about a program that would be very costly and very intrusive," Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Director Judith McGeary said. "You're talking about anyone who owns, you know, a couple of backyard chickens having to report their movements to the government."

The USDA said not every farm animal would be tracked, but rather the purpose of the National Animal Identification System program is to keep up with animals in the food supply chain.

"To help us provide trace ability information in the need of a disease outbreak, investigation or surveillance effort," NAIS Senior Staff Veterinarian Dr. David Morris said.

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For more information about the NAIS program, visit the USDA's Web site at USDA.gov.

For information about oppositon to the program, visit NoNAIS.org or LibertyArk.net.

Morris said the program currently operates on a volunteer basis.

Those opposed to the NAIS program like Gretchen Boyett, of Buda, fear the program could become mandatory and have a detrimental economic impact especially on small producers.

"Everyone would be affected eventually," Boyett said. "I mean if you want to buy organic products at the grocery store, you're going to be affected, because small farmers are going to end up being overtaxed and overworked to accommodate a program that doesn't solve the problem."

Joe Ross from Sonora is a retired veterinarian who believes a better solution lies in compromise.

More than 100 farmers and ranchers voiced their concerns at the USDA hearing.  
"We need to work together," Ross said. " And one shoe doesn't fit all, but let's don't be criticizing the government for everything."

For the government, animal tagging is about food safety, but producers see it as government encroachment on their private property rights.

Now, Central Texas producers will wait and see if they've convinced the government to keep the program voluntary.

According to the USDA, states and tribes can choose whether or not they want to participate in the NAIS program. Some states have already passed anti-NAIS bills.
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