Stop National Animal ID
by Nathan Griffith
"I just want full compliance,” the West Virginia state veterinarian told me. “There’s nothing more to discuss.”
A new USDA regulation had transformed him from a sweet, kindly grandpa type into a hardnosed enforcer. The new law had made me a criminal. My crime? I had too few animals.
The state vet’s curt statement was his final response to my request for procedures that could bring me into compliance with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) pseudorabies testing regulations.
The problem was I had downsized my 200 hogs to only four breeding sows and one boar. To lawfully keep swine, according to the USDA, I had to blood test “at least one adult hog every 60 days, but no hog may be blood tested more than once a year.” With only five hogs, compliance was mathematically impossible; I ran out of hogs to test after only 10 months.
The state vet had promised to find out what I should do, but his only answer was the foregoing remark. It was a clear case of get big, or get out.
I had made a good faith effort. I had paid private vets to come blood test every hog according to the schedule, except of course my “too few” animals kept me from the last 60-day test.
Despite my effort and expenses, I remained a criminal for more than 10 years, because my hog operation was too small. I was denied the right to advertise in the state’s “Market Bulletin.” I could sell hogs for slaughter only at livestock auctions. From time to time my farm was threatened with official quarantine by state employees, mostly when their other work was slow.
The state vet had once been a nice man, genuinely interested in my dilemma when I first spoke to him. But Feds with long purse strings had made clear to him that owning fewer than six swine was not to be tolerated. The change in the man’s easy-going nature was a shock; he showed no remorse at the prospect of destroying my little farm so USDA bureaucrats wouldn’t be inconvenienced with minor details like having too few hogs to comply with a USDA regulation.
I had once sold pork to all the local country stores and some inns. One day I was just coming in after putting away my work horse, when the phone rang. “What’s wrong with the meat you sold my store?” asked a low confidential-sounding voice I recognized as that of my good friend DJ.
“Nothing’s wrong with it, that I know of. Why?”
“Because the meat inspector was just in here yanking all your meat out of my freezer, laying it on the counter in front of a store full of people and taking pictures. He flashed a badge, boxed and taped the meat, then told me I must not sell, remove, or tamper with the sealed box in the freezer. Then he demanded to know how to get to your place.”
“It must be some kind of misunderstanding. You know my meat is all USDA inspected. You and I couldn’t have done anything wrong. I followed all the rules and so did you.”
“But a lot of people were in here when he did that. I know word is going to get out that something is wrong with the meat from your farm, even if it’s all okay.”
“That may be, but everybody likes it. They’ll be back when this blows over.”
“You’re probably right. Since I started carrying your meats, I’ve sold maybe five pounds of the Big Name Brand meat. Thanks for calming me down.”
The West Virginia compliance officer, as one packing house worker put it, “didn’t have a friend in the world.” He showed up at my farm and accused me of selling sausage containing additives.
“That’s nonsense,” I told him.
He pulled one of my labels out of his briefcase and showed me that it listed pork, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and sage. It was sold as meat, but had four additives.
“Everybody’s all-meat sausage has spices in it,” I protested.
“We’re not talking about everybody. We’re talking about you. You must sign this form saying you will not sell or attempt to sell any more such additive-laden products without authorization from this department, or face a fine of up to $1,000 per day for each infraction.”
Although sausage was my biggest selling product, I couldn’t afford a legal fight, and I still had other pork products to sell. So, to get him off my back, I signed the form.
He came back, repeatedly, but never due to a customer complaint. One by one he took each of my pork products out of circulation.
Two years later my friend at the packing house told me my pork had slowed a certain Large Packer’s business to a standstill. That’s why I was harassed out of business.
But that wasn’t the end of it. One day
a huge fat lady from the USDA eased out of her car and waddled up the
fence I was working on.
“Not anymore. I quit selling retail pork more than six months ago.”
“Would you be willing to sign an affidavit to that effect?”
“Oh, well, yeah. Why not. But if you don’t mind my asking, what’s wrong with the label?
“It may have been approved in error. You see, the official stance is... let me see, how did they put it? Oh yes, here it is. ‘It may tend to confuse the consumer.’ That’s it.”
“Do you personally find it confusing?”
“I’m not allowed to answer that. But I can say that, uh, personally, we sometimes have to enforce some, ah, difficult rules. But then, I’m just doing my job.”
I share these true anecdotes—three among many I could tell—to demonstrate that the first priority of Departments of Agriculture is not necessarily to help farmers, or even to prevent the spread of disease. Those government agencies harassing me were downright eager to rush to the aid of packers whose product was obviously second choice in the eyes of my buying public.
Consider this: The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was proposed by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), which is heavily backed by big meat industry businesses and ID tag makers. Isn’t it safe to assume that such hasty insistence on the NAIS may have some hidden motive?
PO Box 2067, Cedar Rapids IA 52406-2067
Phone: 319-362-3027 Fax: 319-362-3046
28 July 2006