4-H Cakes

So far, the federal government is not requiring that 4-H cakes be ID’d, but anything is possible.
Photo: cleanm

I love my country as much as any man but sometimes I think she cheats on me.

You’ll recall that in April 2005 the USDA called for both mandatory registration of livestock premises and individual animal identification. The plan, known as NAIS, required that the movement of any animal must be reported within 48 hours. That plan caused such a backlash that in November 2006 the USDA backtracked and said, “We must emphasize that NAIS is a voluntary program at the Federal level, and USDA has no plans to make participation in any component of the program mandatory.”

But if the program is so voluntary, then why is the USDA using innocent kids to implement its pipe dream?

Mandatory Volunteers

In the fall of 2005, Morgan County, Colorado, Extension Agent Marlin Eisenach summoned a meeting of the fair board. There, the State Veterinarian and CSU professors extolled the virtues of NAIS. After hearing the presentations, the fair board members decided to require mandatory enrollment in USDA’s ID scheme for kids who wanted to show at the Morgan County Fair. In the 2006 Morgan County Fair all 79 market beef animals, 117 market goats, 169 market pigs, and 149 market lambs were identified with 15-digit individual ID numbers.

In September 2006, the Colorado 4-H Livestock Task Force, composed of 15-20 extension agents, recommended to the state 4-H Director, Dr. Jeff Goodwin, that Colorado 4-H encourage premise registration. On March 28, 2007, Dr. Goodwin issued a directive to Colorado extension agents that every 4-H livestock project animal must have a premises registration for participation in 4-H and FFA projects after October 1, 2007.

An eight-page list of talking points was sent out to extension agents to help sell the new policy. David Morris, a USDA vet, said at the time that showing in 4-H was no different than Little League or joining the ballet company: “If one doesn’t accept the rules, one doesn’t have to participate.” The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Livestock Association, National Pork Board and Colorado’s dairy farmers leant their support to the new policy.

Keep in mind that Congress has not mandated the NAIS and the USDA is on public record assuring livestock producers that the program remains voluntary!

Let The Backlash Begin

Besides mandatory ID for fair animals, there was another bad joke going around the fair circuit this summer in Colorado: Do you know the difference between a mad grizzly bear and a 4-H mom fighting mandatory premises registration?

The lipstick.

When Dr. Goodwin issued the directive he assured the county agents that if they stayed the course, in two years this will be a non-issue. Quicker than you can say “railroad job” The Colorado Coalition Opposing Mandatory 4H Premises Registration was formed and letters to the editor began appearing in newspapers all over Colorado.

“I will not teach my children to bow down to big government. I will no longer put money into a program that mandates to our children. It is not fair to our children,” said Kimmi Lewis, a 16-year 4-H mother and rancher from Kim, Colorado.

4-H girl and her steer

Richard Kipp of Pleasant View said, “Their denial of the mounting resistance to this mandate across the state is problematic in itself. I suggest that these folks get out of their air-conditioned offices and into the country to visit with real producers where they’ll get a clear understanding of just how unpopular their policy mandate is.”

4-H member Nina Poli auctioned off her Holstein, Durango, at the Northwestern Michigan Fair near Traverse City in 2005.
Photo: Douglas Tesner/leadmine

Kenny Fox wrote, “Children should not be forced to register their parents’ property in order to show livestock, and national organizations should not be trading their membership lists for cash.”

In yet another misjudgment, Dr. Goodwin seems to have underestimated the opposition to his mandate. He called the coalition a “fringe group.” If they are, they certainly are a well-organized one. Thirteen Boards of County Commissioners in Colorado have now taken action in opposition to mandatory premises registration.

The Fair Ultimatum

Many 4-H members do not have the facilities at home to house an animal, so they find a landowner willing to help. During an April 9 meeting of the Lincoln County Fair Board, Dr. Goodwin was asked what a kid should do when their animal is kept at a location different from their own. Goodwin’s alleged response was to find another location or register the landowner’s premises without his knowledge or consent. John Reid, President of the Coalition, says that “advising children to lie and sign up for a premises registration when they don’t own the premises defies the imagination, particularly when the advice comes from a director of a state youth development program.”

The ID issue came to a head at this year’s Colorado State Fair. The fair decided to make premise registration in NAIS a requirement to sell at the junior livestock auction. Initially, a dozen youngsters who had qualified for the sale were told they would not be able to sell their animals because they failed to get a number. On the eve of the sale, families were given a last-minute choice: either enroll their property in the premises registration system on site, leave the fairgrounds within 24 hours or be escorted off the grounds by the Sheriff’s Department. After being threatened, 10 of the 12 kids went ahead and registered their premises but two refused to do so. They were bought off and their animals were purchased outside of the auction.

“Needless to say,” said John Reid, “This is not a proud moment for Colorado State Fair, 4-H and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.”

The incident raised several flags. According to Reid, two of the families had submitted the premise ID number for their county fairgrounds. Both families say they received permission from state fair officials to do so. Keep in mind that the reason the USDA says we need national ID is for animal traceback in case of a health issue. The numbers are only supposed to be accessed by the state veterinarian and only in the event of an animal health crisis. No one else was to have access.

Clearly this was not a health issue, so how did officials at the Colorado State Fair access the NAIS database to verify the identification numbers of the two kids? Also, fair officials claim it took 30 days for them to identify and weed out the alleged offenders of their ruling. How is a 30-day response time going to assure a 48-hour traceback in a health crises?

And don’t breeding animals get sick, too? Premises registration was not required at the 2007 state fair for breeding animals; only terminal animals.

“4-H and FFA animals are tracked and recorded in more ways than any other livestock in this nation,” says Kimmi Lewis. “Why are they using these children? I believe that these children are being “˜picked on’ because of the numbers and because of money. Over two million dollars have come into the state of Colorado from our very own USDA to push premises registration and the NAIS these last two years. This money has funneled through our own Extension offices and the Colorado Farm Bureau as well as the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. This money is used to pressure people into a premises registration whether they want it or not.”

Take A Number

The NAIS is a Trojan Horse and inside the bowels of the pony are all sorts of bureaucrats ready and willing to control your life and further their goal of a centrally-planned farm policy. But so far NAIS has been a big dud. Less than 25% of livestock production operations nation wide have registered for premises registration. The most current information we could find shows that 408,500 premises have been registered. (We don’t know how many of those have been registered without the owner’s knowledge — or have been coerced into registering, like the kids in Colorado.)

The USDA has stated that it wants every single person who owns even one animal to be involved by 2009. Clearly they could not achieve this goal through voluntary registration so the USDA is trying to sneak in through the back door instead. And what better way to do it than tie premises registration in with federal programs? Don’t forget that the 4-H program is a part of USDA and that the FFA is also overseen by the feds.

Between the 4-H and FFA it is estimated that there are 1,700,000 members enrolled in beef and dairy cattle, sheep, swine, goat, poultry and horse projects. The USDA simply decided to fund mandatory and coercive programs in these programs to pad the numbers. The bureaucrats have other ways to coerce, too.

It is estimated that the USDA has spent $100 million the last four years on animal ID. Just recently the USDA announced the availability of $6 million more for more cooperative agreements. In addition to funding programs on Indian reservations, the USDA gave the National Milk Producers Federation a grant of up to $1 million, cut a deal with the National Pork Board and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the American Angus Association to facilitate the registration of up to 15,400 new Angus premises. It is not just some accident that most cattle marketing programs and ALL animal health programs require a mandatory NAIS premise number. Want to participate in Angus Source or Pfizer vac? Get a premise number.

The Big Business Exception

Are we just being paranoid? What’s not to like about animal identification?


Purebred Leghorns on the farm of George Wetter in Princess Anne, Maryland, who lived before each one of these birds would need to be tagged.

To find the answer you have to look at who is pushing the idea. It all started in 2002 when the National Institute of Animal Agriculture initiated meetings that led to the development of the ID plan. The NIAA is a private organization whose membership reads like a who’s who of big agribusiness: Cargill, Monsanto, the National Livestock Producers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, drug companies such as Pfizer and Schering Plough and manufacturers of tracking systems.

These people are pushing mandatory ID to protect the agricultural export business and to strengthen factory farming. The USDA says mandatory ID is necessary to control disease, but Charles Sylvester, who knows about livestock shows (he was CEO of Denver’s National Western for many years), thinks that’s a bunch of hooey. “Running cattle in two states that have brand laws, I’ve had opportunity to visit with brand inspectors and state vets about such things as tracking and vaccine,” Sylvester said. “It’s very clear that they’ve had a solid hundred plus year history of being able to handle crisis just by simply “˜communicating’ with one another and using the brands. Having an additional step of “˜federal’ would slow down and encumber the entire process. The federal government does not have a first responder (within 48 hours) vaccine plan in place. There’s absolutely, positively, no need for a federal data base.”

The real issue is not health, as USDA Undersecretary Bruce Knight accidentally admitted in a press interview years ago when he said, “The government needs this information as the United States slides into economic integration with the rest of North, Central and South America.”

Now here’s the real slap in the face to those 4-H and FFA kids and smaller ranchers: They have to tag each but animal factory farmers don’t! You read that right. The USDA says that when animals “stay together” — as they do in a factory farm — individual identification of each animal in the group is not necessary.

The NAIS has the potential to drive small and medium-size farmers and ranchers out of business and increase the consolidation of our food supply into fewer hands. If you still doubt that it’s a ploy to aid factory farmers consider that the National Pork Producers Council and the National Pork Board, huge advocates of factory farming, have a goal to register 100% of swine producers’ premises by December 31, 2007. It’s estimated that 60% of swine premises are already registered.

Passports For Hogs

The USDA says your identity will be protected. Please keep in mind, however, that this is the same USDA who told us for years that the beef checkoff was a producer-run organization and then years later told the Supreme Court that it is a government program. Things change. When we all voted for the checkoff the NCBA didn’t even exist. Now they get the lion’s share of the money! Likewise, down the road we’d guess you’ll pay an inventory tax based on ID numbers and have to get approval every time you need to move an animal. The factory farms won’t have to. And we can easily see the USDA demanding premises registration to participate in any federal aid programs.

The most bizarre aspect of this whole mess is how does our government reconcile pushing individual ID when they are opposed to country of origin labeling ?   They want to know about a 4-H hog in Colorado but not one of the Chinese variety!

It’s a joke. The USDA thinks it can trace the whereabouts at any minute of 63 million hogs, 97 million cattle, 300 million laying hens and 9 billion chickens. And this is only three of the 29 species covered by NAIS. We are talking here of the same government that currently takes three months to process a passport and can’t even keep track of this nation’s illegal aliens. If 75% of the people haven’t voluntarily gotten a number by now how many do you think will flatly refuse? As Darol Dickinson says, “You will have to build incarceration facilities in every county to house the offenders.”

As one critic said, “the NAIS is a program that somewhat resembles an expensive plan to use baseball bats to kill mosquitoes . . . when we haven’t found the mosquito — and the plan was proposed by a bat manufacturer.”

Lee Pitts is Executive Editor of Livestock Market Digest.

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