National ID Cards, uh, Tags for Animals

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The USDA is phasing in the National Animal Identification System which would eventually require that all livestock be tagged allowing the Feds to track livestock electronically. First they came for the cows and ….

Hat tip to Pamela Friedman.

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  1. …then they came for the chickens.

  2. Hoof and mouth is a huge threat to the livestock industry. It just a matter of time before we get a case in the U.S. Most of the countries in Latin America are not hoof and mouth free and the disease is highly contagous. Considering how porousness of our southern border, it is very likely that an illegal will pick up hoof and mouth on his boots at a farm in Central or Latin America and then cross over into the U.S. a few days later infecting U.S. cattle. It would take just the right set of circumstances, but it only has to happen once. Once hoof and mouth is reported, the only way to stop it is to quarentine and destroy every cow that has been exposed, which with our national livestock industry could be quite a chore. It is hoof and mouth along with mad cow that is driving the ID program.

  3. John: I hear you, but are you sure that this isn’t also part of a pilot program to eventually biochip us in the future? I hope I’m joking. 🙂

  4. Couldn’t you make the same argument, John, for requiring RFIDs in the people of America? After all, infectious diseases, with the potential to kill millions, exist everywhere, even (cue scary music) inside our own borders.

  5. You could clean hands but biochiping a cow doesn’t quite bring up the same liberty and privacy interests as biochiping humans. Also, you have to biochip cows to keep track of them. It is not like they carry wallets. I was a part of an exercise with the National Guard that simulated a hoof and mouth outbreak a few months ago. I can’t vouch for the realism of the exercise, but all of the experts I talked to thought that a hoof and mouth outbreak would cost billions and be a real bitch.

  6. Well, it’s quite obvious that John is the kind of person who never leaves his home because he is absolutely terrified of everything.

    Jihadists are coming to blow up him and his family any minute now – right after a cow infected with hoof and mouth disease strolls into his yard and licks his face.

    Seriously, John, how do you sleep at night knowing all of these horrible things might happen?

    (Oh, I forgot, Bush II will wiretap and toture and implant chips in the right people and and animals to make sure he feels safer. Sorry to pick on you John, but some of your posts make me shake my head.)

  7. You could clean hands but biochiping a cow doesn’t quite bring up the same liberty and privacy interests as biochiping humans.

    You’re talking about requiring chips in people’s property; I’d call that a privacy issue. And this is also something that won’t make much difference to huge agribusiness conglomerates, but will hurt the few remaining small farmers we have left.

    I know someone who has a tiny flock of chickens because she likes the fresh eggs. Will she be required to get these chips, I wonder?

  8. “Where are we goin?”
    “We’re going to get shot.”
    “Say what?”
    “I said we’re going to get shot.”
    “Well what for?”
    “Because we got Hoof & Mouth.”
    “Hoof & Mouth — what’s that?”
    “See that foam around your mouth?”
    “Yep.”
    “That’s Hoof & Mouth.”

  9. I just remembered something else: didn’t the USDA tell an American beef company that it could NOT test every single one of its cows for mad cow disease? If I recall correctly, the company wanted to do the testing so it could sell beef to Japan, and the USDA said no because that would somehow hurt other American beef companies who didn’t test all their animals.

    So when it comes to keeping our food supply safe, the USDA won’t allow you to test your animals for pathogens, but it will require you to put trackable implants in your animals. Uh-huh.

  10. I know this isn’t really a big issue to big-city lear-ned folk like John, but out here in hayseed flyover country, a lot of folks like to teach their kids the ways of raising livestock, like with 4-H and then such other things that involve tractors ‘n’ trailers, ‘n’ chickens ‘n’ what nots.

    The cost of this chipping program makes it prohibitive for those who engage in such hay-seed unedumacted yolkery, essentially prohibiting people from raising livestock for their own consumption.

  11. John, what happened? I thought you were a military lawyer deployed in Iraq?

  12. I grew up on a cattle ranch that my parents still operate. It certainly would count among the “small” operations, similar to those cited in the link, as they only run about 200 head of cattle.

    This technology is something that they have been hoping will become mainstream for several years now, for several reasons. First, they will no longer be required to brand the animals for ID purposes (which, in addition to smelling like hell and being a generally miserable task, also stresses the animals, which is a bad thing from an growth efficiency standpoint). These ID chips will also bring us into compliance with international markets requests for mad cow tracking, particularly Japan. This will result in higher prices for U.S. cattle via access to more markets. And finally, they are hoping that mainstreaming of this technology will bring the prices down for the equipment to a level where it is easily cost effective and will allow them to track their own herd electronically. Rather than jotting down notes in ratty notebook, they can just scan each animal to update their database for all of the information they collect for quality control purposes.

    The article doesn’t sound like it spoke to many people who are going to be in the business much longer either way. If they are still fighting against the idea of having a computer on their farm, they are SOL. It is a business like any other, and access to immediate information is a make or break proposition. The farmers who hate computers and technology in general are a (literally) dying breed.

    As to whether this should be mandated by the USDA? Despite my Libertarian loyalties, I say it should, as it is something that will benefit the cattle producers themselves as a whole. Perhaps they could allow farmers to elect to opt out of the program, but they then would also get less for the livestock they sell, as they aren’t providing the buyer with the assurances that the chipped cattle will. At the end of the day, market forces would encourage all serious ranchers to adopt the technology.

  13. John, what happened? I thought you were a military lawyer deployed in Iraq?

    If there were an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, there would be lots of lawsuits as a result. So of course a military lawyer would play a major role in such a National Guard exercise.

  14. This technology is something that they have been hoping will become mainstream for several years now, for several reasons. First, they will no longer be required to brand the animals for ID purposes (which, in addition to smelling like hell and being a generally miserable task, also stresses the animals, which is a bad thing from an growth efficiency standpoint). These ID chips will also bring us into compliance with international markets requests for mad cow tracking, particularly Japan.

    So why can’t your parents just put these chips in their own animals if they wish? Why pass a law requiring everybody to use them?

  15. I still am a military lawyer just have been back from Iraq since 04 mediageek.

    You guys are crazy. They are cows for God’s sake. They owned by huge corporations who ship them all over the country. In answer to your question Jennifer, unless your friend is selling them, then no, there is no chip needed. As far as it being property, you have a licence plate on your car don’t you? That is all these chips are are just high tech license plates. If some chicken shows up with bird flu in Montana, it would be nice for Deptarment of Ag officials to know where that chicken has been. Same with hoof and mouth disease or mad cow. They can’t do any kind of quarentine or have any hope of containing an outbreak, if they don’t where the infected animal has been. No one in the livestock industry has a problem with this. They want an identification system because they know what a serious outbreak of mad cow or hoof and mouth will cost them.

    Next I suppose you people will object to quarentining and destroying infected animals.

  16. John, what’s your MOS?

  17. As far as it being property, you have a licence plate on your car don’t you?

    Yes, my car has a license plate, but it does not contain an RFID chip enabling people to track my movements. Furthermore, I only need the license plate if I plan to take my car out on public roads; if I’m keeping it on my own property I don’t need one.

  18. Jennifer (and I really need to figure out the html tags so I can do the quotes thing) — good question.

    They could do the chips right now for their own internal QC purposes. Unfortunately, due to the limited demand for the chips, the prices are apparently still quite high. Once the chips are mainstreamed, though, the economies of scale will bring those prices down considerably (as with any kind of newer technology).

    In addition, one of the primary reasons to use the chips is that it provides assurances to foreign markets that our cattle are trackable in a manner that will allow diseased animals (and any animals they have been in contact with per a nationwide database) to be segregated and destroyed. Upon having that system in place, those markets will open up to U.S. products. Until that becomes mandated for virtually all U.S. producers, however, the system is useless. My parents don’t have the leverage to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan on their own — it has to be done at the national level.

    With the concerns over mad cow and other scary (but incredibly rare) diseases, this kind of quality control is just common sense from a business perspective. But due to the way international trade agreements operate, some degree of national mandating must be done.

    And to your point earlier about the USDA not allowing testing for mad cow … I couldn’t agree more that they were being absurd on that point.

  19. They could do the chips right now for their own internal QC purposes. Unfortunately, due to the limited demand for the chips, the prices are apparently still quite high. Once the chips are mainstreamed, though, the economies of scale will bring those prices down considerably (as with any kind of newer technology).

    By “mainstreamed” you mean “required by law.” You’re basically saying “make people who don’t want these chips buy them anyway, so that they will be cheaper for those who DO want them.”

    My parents don’t have the leverage to negotiate a trade agreement with Japan on their own — it has to be done at the national level.

    I doubt they could negotiate an agreement with “Japan”, the nation as a whole, but they could certainly negotiate an agreement with individual Japanese companies.

    By the way, here’s how to do italics: put [i] before the quote, and [/i] after it, only replace the brackets with the greater-than and less-than symbols.

  20. 27A mediageek. That is the officer in the JAG versus the 27D enlisted. E-mail my e-mail adress and I will respond if you don’t believe me, although that didn’t convince Joe, he was convinced it was a fake, so I told him to call my work voice mail. He never took me up on it, but you can if you like.

  21. I haven’t done a lot of research on this point, but I believe foreign countries, as does the U.S., decides whether other countries’ livestock can be imported. Therefore, no, my parents could not negotiate an agreement with a Japanese company to import beef into Japan unless the Japanese government first agreed to allow American beef into the country.

    And in terms of the safety of our food supply and the quality control of what we export (which has a direct impact on the prices that people receive for their beef), this appears to be a perfectly appropriate requirement for the USDA, as this is one of their relevant responsibilities. This is both a public safety issue as well as an American beef price issue (so both consumers and producers win).

    This is a cost of doing business in an industry that will live or die by its ability to maintain a safe food supply. As a result, in the interest of the entire industry, standards must be maintained. If people do not wish to participate, they simply won’t be able to sell their beef in the markets that have been established for beef that meets the standards which have been set (and for which producers have been willing to provide the investment to assure quality). They can always sell their beef for dog food or consume it themselves or sell it locally. But it shouldn’t go into the national or international markets.

    And the costs coming down for the technology due to the economies of scale is merely a side benefit of the wide acceptance of the technology — not merely a selfish incentive to support the administrative decision of the USDA.

  22. Mmmmm. Chipped beef on toast.

  23. Moooooooooooo ….

  24. The USDA stamps beef differently based on quality. The best thing to do, is set it up so that only the highest grade stamps are given to chipped cattle. If a cattle is not chipped, it quality is less of a known and should receive a B or C grade. If knowing where your cattle has come from is important to the consumer, more and more cattle will be chipped to in order to be sold as grade A meat.

  25. ” will require owners to log their movements into a database every time an animal enters or leaves the premises.”

    When you take your horse to a show or even off your property -you have to log into a computer and let the govt. know.

    This law is going to put small producers out of business-like the lady I buy eggs from every week at the farm stand.

    If you are following the money-is it for food safety or is it to benefit large corporations?

  26. How exactly would one make the argument that this sort of thing would exclusively benefit large corporations? If cattle demand due to quality, thus driving consistently high cattle prices, doesn’t that benefit producers as well? If you aren’t all that familiar with the industry, the answer is “yes.”

    Once again, my parents have a small ranch, are very intelligent, have thought through this issue extensively, and are in favor of it. Clearly, it is not a major deterrent for success by small operations (quite the opposite, actually) except for those folks who refuse to use computers. And as I’ve mentioned, those folks are not long for this industry either way unless they change their mind on that point.

    And I am sure the farmer’s market producers will be just fine.

  27. This site needs some edit functionality …. “If cattle demand is increased due to quality,”

  28. Brad, people keep bringing up the objection that small-scale poultry producers will be put out of business, and you keep talking about cows. You’re missing the point. Quite a few people in this country still raise small flocks of poultry for market. Individual birds are worth very little compared to individual cows, and the cost of meeting these regulations will hit small-scale poultry producers hard. If I understand the regulations correctly, birds in large-scale flocks don’t have to be tagged individually, but beneath a certain size threshhold, they do. Maybe that’s why some of us are saying that the regulations are designed to benefit large corporations.

    Again, Brad: POULTRY. Not cattle.

    And as for this:

    Despite my Libertarian loyalties, I say it should [be the law], as it is something that will benefit the cattle producers themselves as a whole.

    What libertarian loyalties? Sounds to me like you support any legislation that puts money in your pocket or the pockets of your friends and think people should be forced to do what you think is good for them — just like everybody else. Ain’t nothing libertarian about that, Brad.

  29. And I am sure the farmer’s market producers will be just fine.

    Comment by: Brad at May 17, 2006 07:43 PM

    And that would be absolutely untrue.

    ” the NAIS system empowers the federal government to enter and seize property from farmers and ranchers without a warrant”

    “There is no need for NAIS to be applied to small farmers who sell direct to local customers or homesteaders raising meat for their own family. In the first group our customers already know where their meat comes from, they can visit our farm any day of the week and see their dinner out in the pasture. The latter group, homesteaders, also do not need any of the features of NAIS. What NAIS will do is act as a hidden tax on food that will fall heaviest on the rural poor. Ultimately, consumers will pay a higher price as control of our national food supply is concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer large corporate producers.”

    “Pet owners will be forced to register their family horse, pet sheep, llamas and other ‘livestock’ that aren’t part of the food chain. This will cost them money and be a hassle with paperwork and premise ID fees each year. Furthermore, every time you want to take your pet to the vet, on a trail ride or even just cross the road you’ll have to submit paperwork with the government and probably pay a fee. Every time. In time, they plan to do the same for pet dogs and cats. See PAWS legislation and the Vermont Pet Merchant bill that requires you to register as a pet dealer if you cat has kittens or your dog has puppies.”

    “Homesteaders, people who grow some of their own food, will have to register with the government as a farm and obtain a Premise ID. They’ll also have to pay the annual fees associated with that and fill out the paperwork on all of their livestock. Every time you have chicks, goats, piglets or other animals born you’ll need to register it with the government. Every time an animal dies you’ll have to register it with the government. Got a predator problem? Expect to fill out a lot of paperwork. Have an animal escape the fence and cross the road or go onto a neighbor’s property? Fill out more forms and the neighbor may have to fill out forms, too. Animals come on to your property uninvited? More forms. And no, there are no exceptions. Every livestock animal must be registered, tagged and tracked from birth to death.”

    http://nonais.org/index.php/can-nais-affect-me/

    The comment page is very informative of how it will affect individuals.
    A lot of those people sound like they’re ready to burn govt. buildings!

  30. “Despite my Libertarian loyalties, I say it should [be the law], as it is something that will benefit the cattle producers themselves as a whole.

    What libertarian loyalties? Sounds to me like you support any legislation that puts money in your pocket or the pockets of your friends and think people should be forced to do what you think is good for them — just like everybody else. Ain’t nothing libertarian about that, Brad.”

    You may notice, if you re-read when I wrote, that I said “despite my Libertarian loyalties,” I do support this form of government regulation. I didn’t suggest that my stance on this issue is an example of the purest form of Libertarian philosophy. You see, Not David, I do understand that some people assume that any form of government action in business is bad, but I don’t buy that in full. So as you know next to nothing about any of my stands on issues other than this particular one, you don’t have much basis upon which to make a statement like that.

    In this particular instance, and yes, specifically as it relates to the cattle industry, as that is the area I know something about, these rules are good for the entire industry, and they are good for consumers.

    If I was in favor of legislation that would actually hurt some people to the benefit of my family, that’s one thing. But I’m not. I’m in favor of legislation that makes the industry as a whole more competitive in the world markets and will vastly improve the safety of the food supply.

    I already suggested that I believe that there should be exceptions for people who raise food for themselves (and I don’t know if that is part of what the USDA is planning or not), but for the national and international markets, these quality control rules are a good thing.

    This is kind of funny, though. Republicans think I am a flaming liberal because of my social beliefs. Democrats think I am an evil Republican because I am a fiscal conservative, and now I can add a Libertarian slight to the list because I dare not oppose a government standard in agriculture that happens to open up foreign markets to U.S. products. I believe my political resume is now nearing completion.

  31. The comment page is very informative of how it will affect individuals. A lot of those people sound like they’re ready to burn govt. buildings!

    I can hardly blame them. You don’t have to be a libertarian to be extremely distrustful of what sounds like a government attempt to control every aspect of our food supply, and effectively make it impossible for small producers to grow their own meat. Bad enough that our prescription-drug laws give the government sole authority to decide who’s allowed to have medication and painkillers, and how much they’re allowed to have; now the government gets to decide who’s allowed to raise food, and saddle it with so many expensive regulations that only large, wealthy companies can afford to comply?

    But hey, Brad’s parents like the idea, so who gives a damn about freedom anyway? As for “improving the safety of the food supply”, humanity managed to survive and feed itself for 100,000 years without having to register every newborn calf and baby chick with the government.

    If I was in favor of legislation that would actually hurt some people to the benefit of my family, that’s one thing.

    You are–you’re in favor of legislation that will make anybody who owns or wishes to own an animal have to comply with onerous and unnecessary regulation so your family doesn’t have to make the effort to arrange its own trade deals with companies in other nations.

  32. If we start with the assumption that any and all government intervention and/or oversight is undeniably bad, then yes, Jennifer and No David, you guys are absolutely right.

    Further, if one relies exclusively on the most paranoid interpretations of the scope of the government regulations, the case becomes even more open and shut.

    So yes, I acquiesce to both of you … as long as objective and reasonable discussions on a topic are going to be set aside in favor of something that fits conveniently into your ideological sphere, and if that’s how the debate is scored, then I kneel down before you, defeated.

    Of course, in the world that isn’t quite so black and white and shows some hints of gray here and there (that would be the world outside of this message board), what I am saying does make sense.

    And Jennifer, just in case you missed it the first time, please read this and understand. Individual Americans can NOT arrange trade deals for agricultural products with companies in foreign nations unless that foreign nation allows U.S. products inside of its borders. If you truly don’t believe or understand this, go find a Canadian cattle producer and ask him about this concept (the U.S. banned the importation of Canadian beef in response to one case of mad cow in Canada), and he/she will be happy to give you an earful.

    If the world was 100% free trade and borders didn’t exist, then you’re theories would have some merit. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and governments around the world ARE exceedingly involved in international trade for ag products. As a result, in order for ALL U.S. producers to have access to these foreign markets, ALL U.S. products in the market have to meet certain safety requirements (as dictated by the foreign governments). Therefore, individual can’t simply do this by themselves — there must be standards set by somebody who can enforce the standards for the overall good of ALL producers. The USDA seems as good as anyone to do that.

    And, yes, our food supply is reasonably safe, Jennifer. I agree that we’re probably okay without this step. However, public perception doesn’t necessarily agree with this, nor do foreign governments. With the introduction of mad cow disease in the public discussion, as well as societies’ selfish infatuation with making food more and more safe through time as opposed to drawing a line in the sand and saying “This is as safe as we will ever get, ’cause we don’t trust the government,” our perceptions of food safety are somewhat moot points in the marketplace. And with food safety issues, standards must be in place that apply to everyone whose food goes into the public markets. Because if people can choose to cut some costs, yet still get the same price for their products, they most certainly will. And if their decisions lead to an outbreak of mad cow, do they alone suffer for their actions? Of course not — they fuck up the entire industry for everyone.

    I agree that the perfect situation would be that the rancher whose lack of controls led to the outbreak alone suffer for their irresponsibility. Unfortunately, no such system exists right now (but if only there was a way to track each animal precisely ….).

    And do you guys know for sure that the USDA is proposing anything relating to people who grow their food for their own consumption, or is this just speculation on your part? If it was true, I would disagree with that approach. If you guys have any links to resources that prove this, I will be happy to join your rant against that idea.

    So continue to chant “unnecessary regulation” and “Freedom” (is that in a Bush ‘they hate our …’ tone or a Braveheart ‘if only I could kill more Englishmen’ tone?) all you want, but until you have at least a basic understanding of the industry of which you are speaking, you won’t be scoring many style points with anybody other than ideologues who also know nothing about the industry. It’s just not a nice, clean black and white world out there. And sometimes, just sometimes, the government actually does something right.

  33. A lot of those people sound like they’re ready to burn govt. buildings!

    I heartily endorse this product and/or service.

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