Anti-animal ID voices dominate listening session
Driving onto the grounds of The Ranch--the Larimer County Fairgrounds--one recent morning, was a clear message that some people just don't like the idea of a National Animal ID System.
A large cattle hauler bearing the words "Hey USDA--Don't Tread On Me" was parked near the entrance of the fairgrounds, located at Loveland, Colo.
So, too, was a smaller livestock trailer with several hangman's nooses strung up on the outside.
Such was the atmosphere outside as the Veterinary Services (VS) division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) held a listening session inside the fairgrounds' exhibit hall to seek stakeholder solutions to overcome what they called "existing and new obstacles in implementing" the NAIS.
The USDA billed the session as one where producers' comments and concerns could be heard, but also one for potential or feasible solutions to create a program producers feel comfortable in supporting.
While Dr. Brian McCluskey, VS Western Region director, offered a presentation to explain that an NAIS would speed response times for shorter, cheaper disease control programs. The presentation was made with most of the more than 100 persons attending the session glaring at him, wearing stick-on badges reading "My Property. No USDA Premise or Animal ID."
Members of the audience were given three minutes each to offer their viewpoints; however, USDA-APHIS officials allowed some to speak as long as nine minutes since some emotion-filled people had a more difficult time getting their points across. Over the course of the next three and a half hours, only about five of the more than 47 persons who offered comments had anything positive to say about the program, and fewer still advocated making it mandatory.
Most of the comments were along the lines of Dr. Taylor Haynes, a regional director of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA).
"National animal identification is not in any way about food safety or about traceback," Haynes said. "It's about industrial agriculture wanting a way to push more cattle, more than we produce, into international markets. Otherwise, this 840 number they want to put on the front of your animal's ID would be rendered moot."
Haynes said current systems are in place in Colorado and Wyoming that are effective when "people do their jobs."
Haynes said he could not imagine a national system being able to work since he had seen livestock lose eartags.
"Can you imagine in a collecting area--feedlots, sale barns, etc.--when somebody's job depends on every animal there having an eartag? Guess what will happen. Every animal will have an eartag. Will it be a proper tag? Well, it'll be a tag."
Haynes also complained about confidentiality of information under NAIS.
"The Pentagon can't do it with their computers. The VA can't protect their computers. Credit card companies can't protect your information. The only people supporting national animal ID will make a lot of money on this," Haynes said.
"This is industrial agriculture. States have a system in place that works. Producers with livestock on the ground don't have foreign animal diseases running around on our pastures."
NAIS is not important to his ranch, Haynes added.
"I'm not a big importer or exporter. Cattle ship off of my ranch clean. I would suspect every rancher in this room is in the same situation."
The R-CALF USA director said working with every state livestock board would be more effective than an NAIS.
"They know the most about each state. Let's work this out on the local level," Haines said. "If you think you need more than you have now, we will. We the people absolutely must not do this no matter what USDA tries to do. We have to stop it and we have to stop it at the state line or you'll face it individually at your ranch."
Another speaker, Mike Callicrate, said he had no problem with traceback of his animals at his St. Francis, Kan., feedlot.
"We just don't need to be paying for Tyson, Cargill and JBS to facilitate their export of livestock from our country," Callicrate said. "What USDA wants to do here is have the small producers who aren't the problem (with exported beef) who produce safe food, wholesome food to people they know, to pay for it."
Callicrate called the system one of profit over people and said that USDA has created a system that only serves corporate interests and that he was disappointed in the Obama administration and in Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
"We need to have an evaluation of the job USDA is doing," Callicrate said. "If USDA is supposed to protect people and create a safe food system, then you're fired."
On the other hand, there was the voice of Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association. Fankhauser opened by saying his organization represents producers who control 70 percent of the state's total range cattle herd.
NAIS is fatally flawed from the beginning, Fankhauser said, either due to lack of communication or based on what works based on production.
"One thing our group believes is that these animal diseases don't discriminate," Fankhauser said. "All we have to do is look at Europe with foot- and-mouth disease or BSE to see this. Those diseases started in some of the smallest farms in that part of the world. We need to be responsible to that fact."
Fankhauser said CCA supports a voluntary program, one that is treated as an animal disease program, rather than a food safety or a marketing program. The group also believes in the maintenance of a private rather than public database.
Prior to the session, Fankhauser said his organization had already been in contact with Vilsack during a previous stopover in Fort Collins, Colo., about three weeks prior to the session.
Shortly before the session opened, Fankhauser told this reporter that the sight of the livestock haulers in front of the exhibit hall was disgraceful.
"I think it's a disgraceful way for an industry, whatever industry those people represent, to present themselves," Fankhauser said. "You need to stand up and be informed and well spoken and put your position down and move forward.
"I've always respected the livestock industry, the beef industry, and agriculture to be fact-based, to not be activists but advocates. I condone that kind of behavior, but it's a free country and they have a right to do it."
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by e-mail at Ldreiling@aol.com.