I read with great interest yesterday, both in an e-newsletter and a print newspaper, that the federal government is discontinuing the National Animal Identification System as previously proposed. For once, the voices of small farms and consumers appear to have been heard.
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was a pretty scary thing to small farmers. It proposed mandatory identification of all places that housed livestock by GPS location. This would apply to factory farms down to grandparents keeping one pony for their granddaughter or a couple who has a half-dozen chickens as pets and for eggs. Then, all large animals would need to be microchipped (also readable by GPS satellite) and the government would need to be notified if the animal was sold, died, gave birth, or was taken off premises. This would need to occur within 24 hours of the event to avoid a fine of hundreds of dollars per animal involved. The cost of microchipping, record keeping and government notification would, of course, be the responsibility of the farmer. If passed, this literally would have meant that if my husband and I took advantage of a nice day and rode our horses down to the lake through the woods, with full consent of all property owners, we would still need to notify the government within 24 hours that those two horses had left the farm for a few hours. If the government happened to notice a signal from the microchips off the farm property and did not recieve such notification, we could recieve 2 fines, one for each horse.
So why would the government be bothered? The reason was food safety...this way, any animal found to be contaminating the food chain could be traced back to the source, and any other affected animals could be withdrawn from the nation's food supply. This sounds perfectly reasonable, until you read enough to know that the main offenders of contaminated meats, the factory farms, or CAFO's, wouldn't need to microchip any of their animals. The government would only need them to register the location of the operation and give a number of animals housed & processed there. No traceability by animal. This is wrong. Most farms thought so too, as the government was only able to register about 36% of estimated farm locations despite years of promoting voluntary registration.
Big beef, pork, and poultry were not opposed to this regulation. It really didn't apply much to them, and hurt the small farmers with undue costs and government regulation, all in the name of safety. I wouldn't feel any safer had this passed, would you? Big meat gets its business by selling its products at virtually every grocery store at the cheapest price possible. All the recent recalls show that safety isn't the #1 concern. If you buy meat from a small, responsible farmer, we are staking our reputation on every package sold. If you get sick, you won't come back, and you'll tell your friends not to visit us, either. Besides that, small farms are committed to product quality, a personal relationship with customers, and healthy food. Killing your customers with e. coli just doesn't fit into those values. Besides, I don't need a microchip to tell you about your meat. I can tell you the age, sex, color, breed, parentage, diet, birthday, name, and anything else you care to know about the live animal that produced the meat we sell. A microchip wouldn't be of any advantage to our customers, because all they have to do is ask, and that information is already available to them. We don't feel we have anything to hide, and that, in my opinion, is the quickest route to food safety. Put a face on your food. Know where it comes from.
The new proposed regulations, according to the article I read in Farm & Dairy, would apply only to animals or products crossing state lines, would be regulated ultimately by states or tribal nations (some states had already passed laws protecting their farms against the old NAIS proposal) and would be pursued by lower-cost technology. This seems more reasonable, but I'll be interested in seeing what the details of this plan look like.
The plan was dropped not only because of farm opposition or groups representing small family farms, but because concerned consumers voiced their opinions to local government officials, and everyone made their voices heard during 15 stops on a national "listening tour". If you were one of those voices, I thank you, as do many farms across the country. Today we can chalk up a victory for the small farm, something that happens far too rarely.
O.K.... I'll get off my soapbox now. I promise next time to write about more cute animal happenings here at Pleasant Valley!