Protect the Right of Small Farms to Exist — Stop NAIS!

Do you value the right to revel in the plump, orange yolks of eggs from pasture-raised chickens, rich in fat-soluble vitamins, pigments, and essential fatty acids? Do you value the right to eat beef from cows that have been raised on grass? Do you -- in short -- value the right to be healthy?

I do.

But it might not last very long. The emerging Orwellian police state is expanding to agriculture under our noses, and farming will soon be a privilege rather than a right.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a program of the USDA, being promoted through the agency's regulatory authority, thus bypassing Congress. It aims to register virtually every animal in the country except a few types of pets in a national database that will have a digital identity much like your social security card and will be tracked by radio frequency ID (RFID) chips implanted under their skin or hung from their ears.

The program is "voluntary" for now, but many state governments already have mechanisms for making it mandatory in place, and some of them are registering "premises" into the database without even notifying the owners. Congress has been complicit in funding it, and in June went even further by slyly sneaking into a funding bill the requirement that school lunch programs only purchase food from farms that are "voluntarily" complying.

The pretense is preventing the spread of disease. But the danger to independent farmers is serious. The dangers range from the predictable effects of the clear intentions of the USDA and the state governments helping to implement the program to the more cynical predictions one could make if one were skeptical of the government's intentions.

One Vermont farmer described the threat in the following way:

Small Farmers who sell direct to their customers will be devastated. Small farmers already work at higher costs than the big factory farms. Under NAIS they'll have to identify each and every animal at a high cost because they can't use the group identification techniques of the big Agri-Biz corporations. The big guys do all-in/all-out animal management. Each mass group of animals are of one gene stock and the same age. The factory farms need only apply for one ID to cover the entire group of thousands of animals. Small, traditional-style farmers have many, genetically diverse animals of different ages on their farms. Each individual animal will be required to have an ID. The result is that the cost of farming will go up greatly for small farmers. This is likely to be the final nail in the coffin of small farming. Developers will be over joyed as they buy up farm land at rock bottom prices to divide up into condos and strip malls. Rural America will turn dingy with pavement. Gone will be the fields, pastures and meadows filled with grazing livestock. Vermont can kiss its tourist industry good-bye.

But it is easy to imagine worse scenarios.

For example, consider the Mexican government's attitude toward its own small farmers, who, thanks to NAFTA and US farm subsidies, are being kicked off their land in droves. A 2003 opinion piece in the New York Times reported the following:

Mexican officials say openly that they long ago concluded that small agriculture was inefficient, and that the solution for farmers was to find other work.

Is it not possible that what Mexican officials say openly US regulatory agencies believe -- but that rather than talking about it they are doing something about it behind the scenes?

After all, Mexican officials may believe that their own small farmers should find other jobs, but American officials are doing most of the work -- like providing the farm subsidies. They don't talk about how they are driving the campesino off his land -- they just do it. Are they doing the same here?

Gun owners fear that plans for registration mean plans for confiscation are in the works. Regardless of whether that's true, registration certainly makes confiscation much more possible to implement.

Registration clearly does not always lead to confiscation. My car is registered, for example. But lots of big businesses make money when I drive my car.

Lots of big businesses, by contrast, would love to wipe out small farms once and forever just to take over their markets. But now that small farms and even larger farms are presenting a pasture-based, organic alternative to the factory farm, making up for volume by charging a larger premium or using direct sales, and providing a product that consumers perceive as healthier and tastier, now these independent farms are actually a threat to big business.

So what happens when, after NAIS has been implemented for a few years, the USDA declares that, to prevent avian flu, all chickens must be kept indoors? How is the farmer whose operation is based on her ability to charge a premium for free-ranging her chickens going to survive?

What happens when the USDA takes up the argument of the FDA's John Sheehan that grass-feeding makes milk more likely to be contaminated with B. cereus, and all dairy cows must therefore, until further notice, be fed exclusively on grain?

What happens when the USDA declares that, due to the threat of some disease, all meat must pass through a centralized clearinghouse for slaughter, and fails to provide sufficient means for separating the grass-fed from the grain-fed meat, and consumers who buy in bulk direct from farmers may no longer trust that their half-cow or full-cow is in fact the grass-fed one they paid for?

If all animals are individually tracked with RFID chips, implementing these practices on a national basis becomes much more possible.

The right for farmers to operate independently from the Big Government system designed to facilitate the Big Business agriculture plan is in danger. Our right to consume the foods we believe are healthy is in danger. Our ability to form tight-knit communities based on local food production is in danger.

And it is our responsibility to preserve these rights. Here are several resources for learning about and working to stop NAIS:

This information is not to be construed as advice.
Please consult a qualified health professional.
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