The Bush administration has touted the National Animal Identification System as an important tool for monitoring the safety of U.S. meat, but American farmers see the tagging project as an invasion of privacy, or worse. Controlled by the Department of Agriculture, the NAIS aims to register almost every farm animal in the country — even exotic ones — and create a database that will allow the government to track a disease outbreak back to its source in less than 48 hours. Despite the system's goals, many farmers don't want to join.
"Family farmers see it as an assault on their way of life by a federal bureaucracy with close ties to industrial agriculture," Gaouette writes. "Privacy advocates say the database would create an invasive, detailed electronic record of farmers' activities. Religious farming communities, such as the Amish and Mennonites, fear the system is a manifestation of the Mark of the Beast foretold in the Book of Revelation," required to buy or sell.
The system has three parts: premises registration (to designate each property), the Animal Identification Number (assigned by group for big operations and by individual animal on small farms) and animal tracing (movements of animals must be reported within 24 hours). Owners of small farms complain the costs of tagging each animal — the microchip ID costs $1.50 — and then tracking them are too high for their operations.
Though the system is still voluntary — President Bush has not registered his Texas ranch or his eight head of cattle there — some states and farm groups have given farmers little choice. The USDA has tied certain funds to the numbers of farms a state has registered, and its youth programs require children to register their family farms. (Read more)
Congress did not fully fund the NAIS in 2008, allocating $9.75 million of the $33.2 million requested by USDA, reports Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network. (Read more) For an example of one small farmer's take on the NAIS, read Sharon Zecchinelli's September article for the Daily Yonder.