USDA Listening Sessions Report: Americans Say NO to NAIS! (May-June 2009)

USDA has held nine listening sessions so far. The participants at all the meetings have been overwhelmingly anti-NAIS. Multiple organizations have worked to spread the word, encourage people to attend, and contact the media, including: the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Liberty Ark, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Weston A Price Foundation, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, R-CALF, American Grassfed Association, CARE, PICFA, PASA, NOFA-Mass, Massachusetts Small Holders Alliance, Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network, Kentucky Community Farm Alliance, and more. The individuals opposing NAIS at each meeting included not only farmers and ranchers, but auction barn owners, technology experts, consumers, homesteaders, and horse owners.

The people opposing NAIS come from all walks of life and every part of the political spectrum. As a fifth-generation rancher stated at the Austin meeting: “I find it kinda ironic that I’m on the same side of this issue as a bunch of these old hippies. But I am.” In contrast, those supporting NAIS come from a very small handful of Big Ag and Technology interests. The USDA listening sessions are bringing this truth to light, and we must keep fighting!

HIGHLIGHT MOMENT:

  • Testimony of Wendell Berry at Kentucky NAIS “Listening Session” (May 22, 2009):

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry – which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail”.

This is the first agricultural meeting I’ve ever been to in my life that was attended by the police. I asked one of them why he was there and he said: “Rural Kentucky”. So thank you for your vote of confidence in the people you are supposed to be representing. (applause) I think the rural people of Kentucky are as civilized as anybody else.

But the police are here prematurely. If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator.

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country. Thanks you very much. (applause, cheers)

 

SOUTH DAKOTA – June 11, 2009

Over 400 people came to the listening session in South Dakota! The first speaker wanted to find out who the audience was and asked all opposed to NAIS to stand–nearly everyone stood. Then he asked who supported NAIS and only 5 people stood. Seventy-three people testified and only 2 of them supported the NAIS. Those supporting were the SD Pork Producers and SD Cattlemen. People opposing NAIS came from South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, and Kansas.

A coalition of groups opposing NAIS held a press conference at noon. All of the speakers were producers, and it was moderated by Rep. Lance Russell, the State Representative who had sponsored a state anti-NAIS bill. The speakers were:

  • Donley Darnell, a rancher from WY representing Western Organization of Resource Councils
  • Kenny Fox, a rancher from SD representing R-CALF
  • Larry Nelson, a rancher from SD representing SD Stockgrowers
  • Tammy Basel, national chair of WIFE
  • Judy McCullough, Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming chair
  • Tom Connelly, a cattle buyer from SD representing US Cattlemen’s Association
  • Bob Johnson, a County Commissioner from Harding County, South Dakota
  • Mike Schultz, a feedlot owner representing Kansas Cattlemen Association.

Attendees wore bright orange stickers saying NO NAIS and eartags on their lapels saying NO NAIS, and more than 100 people held up poster-boards showing their brands.

 

MISSOURI – June 9, 2009

Approximately 300 people attended the Missouri listening session, including Ron Freeman of FARFA’s Board of Directors. Among his comments, Ron requested that the transcripts of all the listening sessions be provided to Congressional Committee members, so that they can see what Americans have to say about this program!

A report on CattleNetwork summed the meeting up as follows:

“[The listening session tour] has led to a general consensus, though. In a word or two NO NAIS! That was the label on several hundred people attending the listening session in Jefferson City, Missouri. It was the message pounded home again and again by every speaker except one. Defending NAIS was Dr. David Hobson of the USDA’s vet services. He said hello and ducked. His ‘hello’ was a statement that ‘This session is to listen to you. We all play a role in food safety. To do that we need healthy animals. We need this program to identify diseased animals and eradicate disease.’ The crowd wasn’t buying it.”

Go to http://www.cattlenetwork.com/Content.asp?ContentID=321900 for the full article (link currently broken)

COLORADO – June 1, 2009 (coming soon)

CONNECTICUT – May 27, 2009

Approximately 60 people attended the Connecticut meeting. Eighteen people spoke, and only three supported NAIS — and all three NAIS supporters were from industrial dairy organizations. Representatives of NOFA-Mass, Massachusetts SmallHolders Alliance, Farm Aid, and Food & Water Watch all spoke against NAIS, and were joined by small farmers, horse owners, and consumers.

 

KENTUCKY – May 22, 2009

In Kentucky, about 150 people attended the session. Thirty-seven people spoke, with more than 90% speaking against a mandatory NAIS. Those who spoke against it were mostly individuals, speaking for themselves. Pro-NAIS speakers all represented organizations or their employers.

Wendell Berry gave a rousing speech declaring that this was the first meeting he’d been at with USDA, after decades of activism, where USDA brought armed police to protect itself. Ralph Packard, a natural livestock farmer, agreed with Wendell Berry, that the government will need its guns if they make the program mandatory and require people to register their farms and animals. Speakers came from Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

Break-out groups started early, but no consensus was possible. Some USDA personnel continued to insist that NAIS is voluntary, ignoring the coercion that USDA has funded, and state mandatory programs, also funded by USDA. One USDA staffer painstakingly stated that there are many tagging options and that microchips aren’t required “at this time.” When confronted that his comment meant this could change, he would not respond. It was obvious that pro-NAIS personnel were uncomfortable, but also did not come prepared to make concessions.

More promising were the connections made among anti-NAIS activists. The Community Farm Alliance held a press conference at noon. Adam Barr, Ralph Packard, Weldell Berry, and Karin Bergener spoke about why NAIS will wipe out small, independent farmers and the meetings still failed to truly provide farmers a forum because of the late notices, and timing during busy season.

 

ALABAMA – May 21, 2009

FARFA Chapter leaders and Liberty Ark coordinators Susie Stretton, Rhonda Selser, and Margaret Stretton drove more than 450 miles from Louisiana to speak against NAIS at the Birmingham, Alabama meeting. They were joined by individuals not only from livestock organizations, but also from religious and property rights groups. Out of a crowd of about 100 people, 33 people asked to speak and 30 of them spoke against NAIS.

At the breakout sessions, all of the rooms were overwhelmingly anti-NAIS, just like the morning sessions. In one session, a woman claiming to represent the Tribes spoke at length about her qualifications and the cost-benefit analysis, only to be countered by the practical comments of the farmers in the room, who carried the NAIS documents and documented information with them. After participants spoke strongly against NAIS based on the cost, the lack of animal health benefits, and religious objections, the USDA facilitator stated that everyone was of “diverse opinions” and a consensus was impossible. A local farmer with the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund corrected him, pointing out that all but 2 people in the room were against NAIS. There was consensus at this meeting, although not the consensus that USDA was hoping for!

Press Release:

Consumers, Farmers Make Themselves Heard as USDA’s NAIS Listening Tour Continues

 

TEXAS – May 20, 2009

Approximately 150 people attended, including many FARFA members and people representing the Texas Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association, Liberty Ark, R-CALF, Livestock Marketing Association, and the Libertarian Party. There were small farmers, auction barn owners, horse owners, consumers, old ranchers, just-beginning farmers all speaking passionately against NAIS. Many of the speakers have been posted on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/somervellcountysalon

USDA attempted to start the day with a video of Vilsack, but had technical problems getting the recording to play! After that ironic beginning, 56 people spoke against any NAIS or advocated for a voluntary, market-driven program only. Only eight people spoke in favor of NAIS, almost entirely from the Texas Dairymen Association and Pork Producers. The afternoon sessions were also strongly anti-NAIS, with one session culminating in a blunt discussion of “how do we stop NAIS?” It was not a question on USDA’s list, but it was definitely the one that most of the people there cared about!

News coverage:
Critics turn out for USDA hearing
Central Texas farmers voice concerns on USDA program
Texas rancher wants market-driven animal ID system

Special thanks to Stone Craig for donating signs and to the Bumper Sticker for reduced costs on our lapel stickers for the listening session!

 

WASHINGTON – May 18, 2009

Between 50 and 75 people attended the Washington state listening session, and the speakers were again overwhelmingly opposed to NAIS. “Only three spoke in favor of the program, a dairyman, a rep for an ear tag manufacturer, and the Washington State veterinarian, and even he sounded lukewarm towards the NAIS,” reported Kathy and Bert Smith, FARFA and Liberty Ark members.

On the breakouts: “The general consensus was that even a voluntary NAIS is unacceptable. USDA officials were unwilling to answer any questions. Whenever a question was posed, the facilitator replied that they were just there to listen and gather input, not to answer questions. The facilitator kept reminding participants that the USDA was seeking solutions to make the NAIS workable. This group was hard pressed to come up with solutions. The general consensus was an overwhelming majority against NAIS and to do away with it completely. Most were not even willing to compromise with a voluntary program.”

News coverage:
Producers say ‘no’ to NAIS (link broken)
Ranchers still oppose animal ID (link broken)

 

PENNSYLVANIA – May 14, 2009

Approximately 100 people attended the Pennsylvania meeting. At this first meeting, USDA spent significant time “selling” the program in the morning, and strictly limited people’s opportunity to speak. Of the 36 people who did speak, 27 spoke strongly against NAIS, 5 were somewhat indecisive, and only 4 spoke in favor of the program.

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund provided the following report from a farmer who attended: “The people who spoke in favor of NAIS were mostly from organizations like the Farm Bureau which has consistently supported NAIS. … In my session the participants continued to speak out against the implementation of NAIS in any form, even as the facilitator kept trying to elicit comments about how the program could be improved.”

News coverage:
NAIS Meeting Draws Impassioned Crowd
Farmers resist USDA ID system