http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com/hanchette267.htmlMOUNTAIN VIEWS: AGRICULTURE DEPARTMENT SCHEME TO EMPLOY GPS TO TRACK ROGUE CHICKENS
By John Hanchette
OLEAN -- Almost every American knows what happened six years ago today -- Sept. 11, 2001 -- but few have been adequately informed by the somnolent mass media of the subtle fallout on our society and culture from that dastardly terrorist attack.
Our lives have changed, not for the better, and the federal government -- a willing partner with those who would spread corporate greed and corruption -- aids and abets that deleterious change, in some cases even mandating it. A good example of what I'm talking about is the ill-conceived National Animal Identification System (NAIS), briefly described in this space a couple of years ago when it seemed doomed to quick failure. Yet, it is still alive and lurking, and growing in its entrenchment.
The feisty Jim Hightower, former agriculture secretary of Texas, probably defines NAIS best in the current issue of his popular iconoclastic newsletter, "The Hightower Lowdown":
"This is yet another of those sneaky programs blindly authorized under the screaming banner of 'homeland security.' It has received practically no mass-media coverage, but I'm sure you'll be excited to learn that the NAIS sets up a whole new surveillance program to defend you and yours from a rather odd national security threat: terrorist chickens. And terrorist cows, horses, pigs, sheep, llamas ... and so on."
Basically, the National Animal Identification System -- which was never passed nor considered by Congress, nor even paraded forth as a suggested law, but is merely executive fiat by bigbiz-loving morons in the U.S. Department of Agriculture -- would compel all owners of such farm animals to do the following things:
Register their premises and personal financial information on a sophisticated federal database.
Thus, make their farm locations available 24/7 to global satellite surveillance.
Purchase state-of-the-art microchip tracking devices and have them implanted in each and every single animal on the farm.
Keep personal track of separate 15-digit federal ID numbers assigned to each and every one of these animals.
Log, and report to the feds, every single "event" in the life of each animal, such as (but not limited to) births, sales, deaths, trips to or visits by the veterinarian, presenting for judging at the county fair or riding in a horse show, participating in a trail ride or roundup, cooperating in scholastic demonstrations, trucking to another farm or sales auction, use in sporting events, and other such nonsense.
Pay hefty government fees for the privilege of having the farm location and its animals registered with Big Brother.
Submit to fines of up to $1,000 a day for any failure to comply.
It gets worse. Suppose a free-range egg-laying hen strays from her assigned Global Positioning Satellite locale. The hen's owner, whether it's a working farmer or your grandma who keeps it as a pet, would have to report to federal or state Ag Department watchdogs within 24 hours the purpose of the departure, the duration of the bird's absence and the current location of the dangerous chicken -- or be faced with an even bigger fine.
"One would guess," writes Hightower, "that Orwell, Huxley, or Kafka came up with this absurdity as a work of satire, but unfortunately it's all too real."
Size doesn't matter in all this. Even if your grandma has a pet goose and nothing else, even if the only critter on your place is your daughter's pony -- doesn't matter -- you've still got to go through as much federal red tape as you would if you were an arms dealer.
Raising some deer in the back forty? Same thing. Gotta chip 'em.
If you're thinking that all this fuss, bother and paperwork would mount up to a pretty expensive undertaking, you get an A-plus. Most farmers I know toil dawn to dusk on their crops and animals, and love their choice of labor partly because of a visceral aversion to bureaucracy and needless record-keeping. Subsequent studies after the federal idiots conceived this monstrosity in April of 2005 show the farmer's cost of registering and chip-tagging these animals alone would approach $70 per creature. So even a relatively small spread with, say, 200 sheep, would set the proprietor back $14,000 before he merely began to farm it. That alone would break many non-corporate subsistence farmers who have a much smaller margin of operational profit than that.
The absurdity of this idea -- given the lassitude of the federal government in approaching other real and obvious social problems like street killings, black marketing of weapons, illegal sales, shrugging off criminal record checks, and other gun crimes -- has been apparent from the beginning.
As Mary Zanoni of Canton, N.Y., a leader in the burgeoning anti-NAIS movement, notes, it's a strange society in which more scrutiny would be given a licensed chicken than a licensed gun-owner. After all -- as Hightower adds -- you can still carry your gun off your premises to go hunting or attend a gun show, or just carry it around without filing a report with the government. Think of the unshirted hell the National Rifle Association would raise on Capitol Hill if the mandated registration of such personal property as guns was extended to satellite tracking and unending reporting of where your firearm was used or transported.
So what is the real federal motive behind all this? I don't mean the surface suggestions from Washington that this will stop terrorists from poisoning our food supply, or that this will allow you to grill that juicy steak on the back deck without worrying about the latest outbreak of mad cow disease.
After all, as Hightower points out, "the health claims of NAIS are a sham" because even the elaborate NAIS tracking of farm animals would end at the time of slaughter -- and it is "from slaughter onward that most spoilage occurs. NAIS doesn't trace any contamination after this final 'event' in the animals' lives."
Further, the NAIS dictate would not even approach identification of E. coli or salmonella or listeria or mad cow or other meat-borne diseases. Truth be known, such contamination usually comes not from small farms, but -- as Hightower writes -- "from the inherently unhealthy practices (mass crowding, growth stimulants, feeding regimens, rushed assembly lines, poor sanitation) of industrial scale meat operations." It is the massive factory farms run by agribiz conglomerates, he writes, that account for "the vast number of disease outbreaks."
Then why do this NAIS thing at all? Hasn't the federal government -- which hypocritically spouts propaganda about the free market system -- already demonstrated it is totally capable of destroying non-corporate farms with such meddling programs as milk price supports and whole herd buyouts?
The huge campaign-contributing agribiz corporations and industrialized meat producers -- which have huge staffing, sophisticated computer networking and existing systems of inventory tracking -- already have engineered a corporate loophole the size of a barn in avoiding the hassle small farmers will have to put up with.
Hightower notes if a business entity owns a birth-to-death factory system with thousands of animals -- as the Cargills and Tysons of the world do -- then it does not have to tag and track each one, but instead "is given a single lot number to cover the whole flock or herd." How nice of the feds to give their Giant Agribiz pals a pass from the crippling record-keeping likely to put the individual farmer out of business. The giant operators, observes the "Lowdown" newsletter, are happy to see these pesky smaller competitors "saddled with another reason to go out of business, thus leaving even more of the market to the big guys."
All this is to say nothing of the bureaucratic costs to non-farming taxpayers, nor of the immense profits in the offing for computer chip manufacturers and private sector computer tracking systems if NAIS comes to pass. The feds estimate about 2 million farms in the country would fall under NAIS, and unofficial federal animal "census" numbers indicate there are 97 million cows, 260 million turkeys, 7 million horses, 63 million pigs, 6 million sheep and more than 9 billion chickens in this country. You do the math. Can you spell w-i-n-d-f-a-l-l?
That's our current federal government to a T -- blatantly protecting the corporate greedballs and letting the patriotic little guy twist in the wind, all because of money.
In June of 2006, the USDA issued an "implementation document" setting a goal of having 100 percent of animals tagged and farm premises registered by January of 2009. But small farmers and small business organizations fearing similar costly crackpot schemes raised so much opposition and contacted so many previously clueless politicians that the USDA backed off a bit.
Now they are saying NAIS will be voluntary "at the federal level" -- a trick USDA phrase meaning they are shunting the still-mandatory program off on individual states, to which they are doling out millions of dollars in federal grants to get it done. Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin already have made the burdensome registration mandatory, and Maine, North Carolina, Texas and Washington are about to do so. In about a dozen states, legislation has been introduced to reject the NAIS idiocy.
Even Congress finally is catching on. The House Appropriations Committee refused a few months ago to approve any new USDA funds for NAIS until a "complete and detailed" cost-benefit analysis is completed. In New York state -- where we've become so used to incredibly bad government that NAIS plans caused barely a ripple of complaint -- the state agriculture department says about a third of the state's 40,200 farms have registered already.
If you'd like to learn more, pull up a few of these grassroots Web sites:
John Hanchette, a professor of journalism at St. Bonaventure University, is a former editor of the Niagara Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent. He was a founding editor of USA Today and was recently named by Gannett as one of the Top 10 reporters of the past 25 years. He can be contacted via e-mail at Hanchette6@aol.com.