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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   VegSource Interactive, Inc. | Farm Animals

Here come Big Brother and the Chicken Police
by Rabbi Yonassan Gershom

According to an article by Dr. Mary Zanoni, PH.D., in the Feb/Mar 2006 issue of "Backyard Poultry", Big Brother is about to invade the backyards of every American who owns even one single animal that could conceivably be used as food. Even if you are a vegan and never use any animal products yourself, you should be concerned about this issue, because, if passed, the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations could spell the end of the animal welfare movement and the triumph of factory-farm agribusiness.
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  For several years now, the USDA has been asking the big producers in the meat, egg, and dairy industries to voluntarily register their herds and flocks under the proposed "National Animal Identification System" (NAIS). The goal, if the USDA has its way, is to make this registration MANDATORY by January 1, 2008 -- and not just for commercial producers. Even if you have only one chicken, turkey, goat, goose, duck, sheep, pig, cow, horse (yes, some people do eat horse meat), ostrich, emu or whatever -- and even if they are beloved pets that you never plan to sell or eat, you will still be required to:
  1. Register your farm or backyard flock with the USDA, including your name, address, telephone number, and Global Positioning System coordinates for satellite-assisted location of your home and farm. You will then receive a 7-digit "premises ID number" to use in all reports to the USDA. (By doing this, you are essentially consenting to be spied upon.)
  2. Register each animal individually and receive a separate 15-digit number for each animal. This will then be programmed into a microchip and implanted the animal at YOUR expense.
  3. Report within 24 hours the birth, death, sale, or any movement of each animal to or from your property (even to take it to the county fair or the vet!) -- again at YOUR expense.

If this sounds like some kind of weird conspiracy theory to you, check it out for yourself at the official NAIS website (http://www.usda.gov/nais). There you will find an overview of the plan and the stages for implimenting it, plus updates and statistics on your own state, including how many animal owners have voluntarily complied with the request to register their premises. (The microchips will come later.) The USDA, in turn, is using this "voluntary compliance" data as "proof" that people don't object to this program -- even though most people with backyard flocks don't even know about it. At least one state, Wisconsin, has already made registration mandatory, with over 100,000 homes and farms registered. Other states are soon to follow, unless people wake up to what is happening and understand the REAL implications of this for the humane and organic movements.

Although this is being touted by the USDA as a way to track animals in case of an outbreak of a disease or pandemic such as Asian bird flu, the reality is, that it will hit hardest on small organic and niche farmers, people who want to raise their own eggs or meat, hobbyists who enjoy the animals as pets, and anyone who prefers free-run poultry or eggs to those from factory farms. There are NO EXCEPTIONS to NAIS, not even for people like the Amish, who, for religious reasons, do not use electronic devices. In short, this could spell the end of the family farm as we know it. Mary Zanoni writes in her article:

"The NAIS will drive small producers out of the market, will make people abandon raising animals for their own food, will invade Americans' personal privacy, and will violate the religious freedom of Americans whose beliefs make it impossible for them to comply. The NAIS will also encourage increased industrial-scale animal farming, and discourage the humane, small-scale production of animal foods." (Source: "The USDA's proposed 'National Animal Identification System': A plan for Government Monitoring and your Flock," Backyard Poultry, Feb/Mar 2006, p. 44)

And get this: The big companies, like National Pork Producers and Cargill Meats, get special breaks and considerations. Rather than mark each animal individually, they can register a whole flock of poultry under a single ID number as the birds move through the system from chick to market. But backyard poultry owners, small-scale farmers, or even classroom incubator projects will have to individually register EACH CHICK as it is hatched, as well as keep up with all the paperwork that will entail. The extra costs of all this red tape in time, labor, and equipment (including the microchips and the computer with internet access needed for the "within 24 hours" reports) will NOT be funded by the government. Even the USDA admits this on their site. For small-scale family farms already on the edge economically, this additional bureaucratic burden will be the death knell.

So I ask myself: Are the USDA and the meat industry using the "mad cow" and "bird flu" scares to get this plan implimented without public protest? Quite possibly. It is no accident that recent news stories about bird flu show free-run birds being hauled off by workers in anti-contamination suits, while, at the same time, touting the "safety" of poultry raised under roofs or in cages in the commercial [read "factory farm"] industry. Even though Asian bird flu is difficult to catch unless you are actually slaughtering birds, people are now panicking over it. To the general public, the NAIS plan probably sounds like a nice, modern, efficient way to protect the food supply. But people in the organic, vegetarian, and animal welfare movements know that meat produced in factory farms and feedlots is MORE likely to pose a threat to public health. "Mad cow" disease, for example, is not caused by free-run cattle grazing in a field. It is caused by feeding cows commercial feeds contaminated with the virus from ground-up animal parts -- something a cow would never choose to eat in its natural diet. As Zanoni explains:

"The NAIS is touted by the USDA and agricorporations as a way to make our food supply 'secure' against diseases or terrorism. However, most people instinctively understand that real food security comes from raising food yourself or buying it from a local farmer you actually know... Ultimately, if NAIS goes into effect, more consumers will have to buy food produced by the large-scale industrial methods which multiply the effects of any food safety and disease problems. (Ibid, p. 45)

What can you do? Zanoni recommends that small-scale farmers and backyard animal owners should NOT participate in any so-called "voluntary" NAIS registration programs. I agree. Instead, we should get organized and create an effective movement against this unholy marriage between the USDA and the argricorps. Here are some activist suggestions:

  1. Educate yourself on this issue by going to the NAIS site (http://www.usda.gov/nais). Then read up on the realities of factory farms, disease control, family farm economics, etc.
  2. Work to make the public, and especially those in the animal welfare movements, aware of this well-kept secret that Big Brother has not been telling us about. Write letters to the editors of your local papers, email your contacts, etc.
  3. Talk to your local farmers, Humane societies, animal activist groups, hobbyists, etc. and make them aware of this program and its negative implact on farms and farm animals. Hand out info at farmers' markets, coops, organic food stores, etc.
  4. Write to your Congresspersons and tell them you are opposed to this plan. Suggest that money be spent instead to develop a bird flu vaccine, as has been done with other poultry diseases in the past.
  5. As an act of civil disobedience on behalf of the animals, REFUSE to cooperate with this program, on the grounds that it violates your beliefs about kindness to animals by forcing them to be raised under factory farm conditions.
  6. Organize public protests whenever a USDA representative comes to your area to speak on behalf of the program. Challenge him/her with your questions during the discussion period. You won't convince the speaker, but the audience is listening.
  7. Join "Farm for Life," an organization formed to combat NAIS and promote healthier, more sustainable agriculture. For more info on "Farm for Life," contact Mary Zanoni at mlz@slic.com, or call 1-315-265-2800.

And remember -- the NAIS is not yet law -- but it soon will be, unless people speak out and prevent it.

The time to act is now!!!

Rabbi Gershom

 
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