A new coalition has formed to fight a new government program meant to identify and track every farm animal in the nation.

According to its website, the Liberty Ark Coalition is made up of “people with diverse backgrounds and political views. Why? Because we agree on one thing: NAIS and similar programs must be stopped.”

NAIS stands for the National Animal Identification System, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It consists of three phases: premises registration of animals, the assigning of ID numbers, and tracking. Each phase is currently in varying degrees of implementation.

The Liberty Ark Coalition notes: “The program would require every premises which houses even a single chicken, duck, turkey, cow, pig, goat, horse, or any other animal considered to be livestock, to be registered in a government database and assigned a seven-digit number and GPS coordinates.”

The program, which has been under development since 2002, is meant to provide the government with the location of all livestock to better respond to outbreaks of disease among animals, such as mad cow.

“Premises registration is ongoing in all 50 states,” explained Dore Mobley, a public affairs specialist with the USDA. “We have about 235,000 premises registered, which accounts for a little over 10 percent of the national total we expect.”

The registration process requires a “minimal amount of information,” the spokeswoman told WND.

The second phase of identification ties the premises registration number to each animal that lives in that specific location. The government database, then, will have information about where an animal originated and the date and location of when and where it is moved. Farmers and ranchers would have to report which animals change premises within 24 hours.

“It’s just four basic pieces of information we’d have access to for tracking,” Mobley said.

Eventually, each animal is to be tagged with a radio frequency identification device or micro-chipped, an expense the coalition says small producers should not be required to bear.

States the groups website: “If fully adopted and implemented, the likely outcome of NAIS is that animal ownership increasingly will be limited to large entities who can afford to comply and who are willing to accept the governmental intrusion. Yet this ‘feel good’ program will do virtually nothing to safeguard animal health, its alleged purpose.”

One of the new coaltion’s contention is that the USDA does not even have authority to implement the program.

“USDA is operating without authority from Congress,” states the organization’s website. “Currently, there are three bills in Congress, trying to give postdated authority to this assault on our freedom. The existence of these bills proves that there is no congressional authority for USDA to establish a mandatory animal identification system.”

Mobley, however, disputes that claim.

“The Animal Health Protection Act of 2002 … gives us the authority to implement the National Animal Identification System,” she said.

Mobley stressed that the program currently is voluntary, but that the agency “has the authority to implement regulations to mandate the program.” For the initial period, however, USDA has “chosen” to make it voluntary.

“If participation is not adequate by 2009, we will consider developing regulations that require participation,” Mobley said, adding that the agency would prefer to get full participation “through market forces.”

She also noted that the premises registration part of the program is being implemented by the states — some of which have passed laws to make it mandatory.

Mobley downplayed concern about the cost of the program to small farmers, saying most industries have their own identification requirements already: “We’re just standardizing requirements across the board and across species.”

The Liberty Ark Coalition notes Texas currently has a fines program for those who don’t comply with registration, and the activists are afraid such a penalty scheme could go nationwide in the future — a scenario the USDA has the power to implement, Mobley indicated.

Rather than reduce the risk of industry-debilitating disease, the coalition believes the exact opposite:

“NAIS will probably increase the spread of livestock diseases by creating a new black market. If these new regulations are adopted, it is inevitable that some people will not comply — whether for religious reasons, economic reasons, or unwillingness to allow the government intrusion. Since they will be acting illegally, they will be far less likely to seek a veterinarian’s help should a disease problem arise.”

The coalition believes large agricultural corporations — those that have worked with the government planning the program for several years — are pushing the plan because of the recent rise in popularity of locally raised food, which presents competition to the big companies. The organization believes small, local farms produce food that is safer than that offered by huge corporations because it has not been transported long distances.

“The USDA plan will only kill off more local sources of production,” states the coaltion, “which are our best defense in the event of adulteration of the food supply by terrorists. These small producers also represent the community of organic and sustainable agriculture farmers and ranchers, which provide food sources in increasing demand.”

The organization compares firearm regulation to animal tracking, saying, “A gun owner will be able to transport their gun almost anywhere they want to go, without reporting such movement to anyone. But, if you take a chicken to a livestock show, you will have to report it. The NAIS would actually subject the owner of a chicken to far more surveillance than the owner of a gun.”

Randy Givens is a retired army colonel and coalition founder who resides in Texas.

“This program will devastate county fairs, 4H and Future Farmers of America projects, through which children learn how to care for and show their animals,” Givens said in a statement. “It will kill the rodeo circuit. These programs have been successful for generations; the NAIS will wipe them out
because it is simply not worth the effort or cost to register, tag and report every animal that moves to a show or a county fair, or to a rodeo.”

Stated Karin Bergener, an Ohio attorney who helped form the coalition: “We hope the Liberty Ark will save our animals and our farms from unnecessary government intrusion.”

WND columnist Henry Lamb recently highlighted what he sees as a serious risk for the small producers.

Wrote Lamb: “Vertical marketing practices in the meat processing industry, combined with the industry’s access to and influence on the Department of Agriculture and Congress, has the small producer against the ropes. The NAIS may be the final blow that puts independent ranchers and small farmers down for the count. …

“NAIS has been described as a train coming down the track that cannot be derailed. Independent producers are unwilling to accept this assessment. NAIS engineers may be surprised to discover an avalanche on the tracks ahead.”

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