Humane organization activists have been buzzing this week about the so-called Freedom to Farm Act. The work of Rep. Roy Ragland (R-Stone Age) and similar ilk, it ostensibly would bar registration and permitting of "animal producers." (Animals being anything but insects or humans.) It's an NRA-style anti-farm-control bill.
The buzz has been that the bill would protect puppy mills. Ragland has explicitly told a couple of people who wrote him that the bill is NOT about puppy mills.
Read the bill. After a cursory glance, I can see where a lawyer for animal activists believes the broad language would cover a dog breeding operation, even if unintended.
At a minimum, it's a bill in search of a non-existent problem. So far, it has won a do-pass from a committee Ragland heads. We can hope that would be the end of it. Ragland is rightly cause for suspicion in these quarters because he voted against the felony animal cruelty legislation and also pushed a bill through the House, defeated in the Senate, in support of horse slaughtering.
PS -- Agriculture-savvy are almost certainly correct that the bill is about resistance to a USDA animal identification program, not puppy mills. But that doesn't mean it's not also a good example of unintended consequences. There's also the ultimately futile matter of a state trying to pre-empt federal regulation. On the jump, a reader's note and an excerpt from an article on the small farmers' side in this debate.
FROM A READER IN THE FARM BELT
I have a feeling that Ragland's bill is in response to USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS). There was a hot response from NWA farmers to it back during the 2006 election. They don’t want USDA to have a way to track the animals on their farms. It started out as a good idea, as a way for producers to meet foreign export requirements, then the Bushie’\s started saying that the industry would control it, which scared the little guys, b/c basically Tyson would be able to track every cow, pig and chicken in the US. Thus the person who had access to the data could jack up prices or lower them according to the data. Thus if Tyson knew that 6 months from now a bunch of cows would be ready for the market, Tyson could tighten its buying to lower beef prices. USDA made the NAIS rule mandatory through administrative rule changes, and then said that for it to be fair, the industry (the largest meat packers) would control it. They then canceled the mandatory part of the NAIS system. This was done back during the election through a sleight-of=hand move. The little farmers from around the country had a fit. I assume the Obama administration told USDA to change it back to a voluntary program. The idea of the anti-NAIS people is to basically ban it on the state level as to build a position in case USDA tries to make in mandatory again.
The article excerpt below gives a better prospective.
What NAIS appears to be
Formulated under the Patriot Act and therefore without legislative review or public commentary, NAIS is a government program that threatens to put thousands of small farmers and ranchers out of business. It is an expensive and unnecessary federal program requiring owners of livestock to tag their animals with electronic tracking devices and report to a data base within 24 hours any births, deaths, ownership transfers, and changes in location.
Often labeled no child left behind, the program has grown to include all livestock species including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and fish. It is the animal equivalent of the RFID embedded national ID card. NAIS would invade the privacy of small farmers and overwhelm them with fees and paperwork, driving them out of business.
Under NAIS larger livestock operations are able to tag whole groups of animals with one ID device. Smaller ranchers and farmers, however, will be forced to tag each individual animal at a cost ranging from $3 to $20 per head. And NAIS applies to anyone who owns any single animal, granny with her chicken, or the family who keeps a cow. There are no exceptions.
Up until September, membership in NAIS was to be voluntary although the term was used loosely. More than $150 million in taxpayer money has been used to promote NAIS, money that could have been spent on more inspectors to oversee meat processing plants. NAIS money has been used to influence non-government organizations into a public/private partnership to promote the organization.
Registration has been mandatory for anyone wishing to display an animal at state fairs, and veterinarians were encouraged to register animals without the consent of the owner. Strict enforcement involves fines, inspections of properties and the potential for confiscation or redistribution of livestock done by the USDA or state governments without trial or legal hearing and with no compensation to the owner of the animals. Failure to register the home or farm with a Premise ID called for a fine of $1,000 per day.
What NAIS may really be all about
Sold to the public initially as a necessity to protect the health of U.S. livestock and poultry and the economic well-being of those industries, the propaganda has increased to include protection of the public health through the ability to track to the farm of origin every animal admitted into the food chain. However, the U.S. is a net imported of beef, and the USDA is allowing importation of beef from countries where no animal tracking is available. The biggest export customers of U.S. beef are Canada and Mexico, and they do not require NAIS.
Clearly NAIS has nothing to do with arresting disease or protecting the food supply. The initiative was never intended for this purpose. State animal registries already document the origins of animals before entering the food supply. And contamination of food generally happens after the food leaves the farm. Many examples of factory contaminated food fill the news. If a problem is discovered after the food has left the factory, at the consumer level, recall procedures are in place.
Meat sold in stores and restaurants is supposedly USDA inspected during slaughter and processing. The large number of recalls reveals that meat from big commercial producers may not have been properly inspected. NAIS does nothing to halt the spread of mad cow disease, a disease believed to be caused by the practice of grinding up old cows and adding them to cow feed. This practice is banned, and it is the job of the USDA to enforce that ban. Only a more efficient USDA inspection program can improve food safety.