(NaturalNews) The recall of 143 million pounds of beef processed over the past two years is the largest meat recall in the history of the world. The USDA had no choice following an animal group's release of videotape of "downer" cows being dragged across filthy floors and pushed around by a fork lift, before joining their healthier brethren on the hamburger highway. Since we all agree that the primary responsibility of the USDA is food safety, the question is, where were the USDA inspectors? The answer may be that for several years, the top priority at the USDA has not been food safety, but the creation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
What is NAIS?
Formulated under the Patriot Act and therefore with no legislative review or input of the people, NAIS is a government program originally designed to give US beef producers help in getting their products into the export markets, as well as protection from liability involving those products.
Often labeled "no chicken left behind", the program has grown to include all livestock species, including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and fish. Owners are required at their expense to electronically, and with geo-satellite coordinates, tag each group or groups of animals and report within 24 hours to a data base: animal births, deaths, ownership transfers, and animal ingress and egress from the owner's land.
Under this system, animal owners who want to sell or take their animals off their property are also required to register their land with the USDA, thus putting their property under federal jurisdiction.
Of course, the benefit is to the big factory farms who clearly do need some type of regulation. They will do single ID's for large groups of animals. Small farmers, pet owners and homesteaders will have to tag and track every single animal individually.
Under NAIS, there are no exceptions. Even small farms that sell directly to local consumers will be required to pay the fees and file paperwork on each of their animals. Homesteaders who raise their own meat and grandma with her one egg hen will also have to register their homes as 'farm premises' and obtain a Premise ID, as well as tagging each animal.
The animal tracking, logging and reporting components of NAIS are scheduled to become mandatory nationwide in January, 2009. Strict enforcement involving fines, inspections of properties and confiscation or redistribution of livestock can be done by the USDA or state government without trial or legal hearings and with no compensation to the owner of the animals. Failure to register your home or farm with a Premise ID already faces a $1,000 fine in some states. This is in violation of the Fourth Amendment Constitutional right as outlined in the Bill of Rights.
Nearly $150 million of taxpayer money has been spent on promoting NAIS, money that could have been spent on more inspectors to oversee meat processing plants. Instead, NAIS money has been used to influence non-government organizations into a public/private partnership to promote the NAIS. The Future Farmers of America and the 4H Club received large sums to encourage their parents to quickly register their property into the program.
NAIS and Food Safety
NAIS does nothing to prevent or arrest disease or contamination in the food supply. The initiative is not intended for this purpose. The goal of NAIS is to provide a 48 hour trace back to the farm of origin in the case of problems, a requirement for export to foreign markets. NAIS expands corporate profits, not consumer safety. The 48 hour trace back time that follows any problem detection could mean weeks or months have elapsed since any problem would actually have occurred.
Contamination of the food generally happens after the food leaves the farm. Many examples of factory contaminated food fill the news. And if the problem is not discovered at the factory but later, at the consumer level, there is a recall. The systems are already in place to handle this type of problem.
As to disease, meat sold in stores and restaurants is supposedly USDA inspected during slaughter and processing. The reality is that large numbers of recalls show us that meat from big commercial producers may not have been properly inspected because there are not enough inspectors, and because priorities lie elsewhere.
NAIS does nothing to halt the spread of Mad Cow Disease, a disease believed to be caused by the practice of grinding up old cows and adding them to cow feed. This practice is banned, and it is the job of the USDA to enforce this ban.
NAIS cannot help prevent the feared Avian Flu which is spread by wild birds.
Had the NAIS system been fully in place, it would not have prevented the "downer" cows in California from getting into the food supply. Nor would it have prevented any of the other meat recalls in recent years. Only a more efficient USDA inspection program can improve food safety.
Who Benefits and Who Loses From NAIS?
Today's NAIS is an outgrowth of international agreements brought to the USDA by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, a not-for-profit organization consisting of large meat packers, manufacturers of animal tags and tag-reading equipment, and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. These are the organizations benefiting financially from the NAIS. Farmers, ranchers, and producers who must pay for this program were not invited to participate in its development.
The tag and reader manufacturers anticipate windfall profits from NAIS. State Departments of Agriculture are also slated to benefit. And certainly this is a full employment act for the USDA.
Animal owners who have to pay the bill for all this are being urged to sign up before NAIS becomes law in their states. Early sign up is billed as a patriotic act. To encourage early signing, animals cannot be shown at state fairs unless their premises are registered in the NAIS. Breed associations are being encouraged to withhold registration of animals for people not first registered with NAIS. There are reports that animals have been slaughtered by USDA inspectors on small farms where the owners resist registration.
Agri-business is the clear winner under NAIS. The prize is expanded export markets, and legal liability protection at minimal cost. Small farmers will be forced out of business due to the additional fees and paperwork, resulting in market share gain, bigger monopolies, and higher profits for the corporations. Anyone wishing to raise his own, better quality food will face the obstacles of paperwork and regulation.
NAIS is going to be expensive and guess who will pay for it in higher food prices? You!
About the author
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.