Judith McGeary, of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, spoke to the conference about the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to require registration and data collection on all animal and produce raising operations in the country.
The FDA is creating a three phase plan to “protect our food supply” which includes 1) premises registration (ie registration of private property); 2) animal RFID tagging, and; 3) tracking of animals, failure to do so resulting in penalties for the animal owner. The USDA has issued a cost/benefit analysis which shows that small producers will incur 2 to 3 times the cost of large producers, and that the document was poorly planned and executed. To put the magnitude in perspective, Australian studies put the cost per head of compliance with such a system at $37-$40, and a British study showed costs per head of $69. For a small producer, this economic regulatory burden can be a business destroying proposition.
The FDA tried to make this program mandatory, but ran into significant opposition and retracted their directive mandating the property registration provision. However, the USDA is using funding of state programs as leverage to ensure “voluntary” state level compliance with the program. Another approach being used to generate compliance is to use existing disease control programs with various livestock categories to require registration.
In September of 2008, the mandatory requirement was reintroduced by a directive to state health authorities to require premises registration for disease control programs administered under the health department’s auspices, and directed that these state authorities register the properties for the property owner if they do not do so voluntarily. In January of 2009, a proposed rule would require mandated premises registrations for specific programs, and laid the groundwork for the implementation of Phase 2 of the program, the mandatory animal RFID tagging requirement.
There have been 2 Congressional hearings on this issue this spring, and the House zeroed out the funding for this program, but the Senate supplied $14 million, which was cut in half by an amendment, and the difference will have to be worked out in a conference committee after the August recess.
Another challenge is the “food safety” push, which is a legitimate concern, but should not be part of the NAIS program, since most food pathogen issues such as e-coli and salmonella occur after the animal has been slaughtered, not while on the farm. A key piece of legislation to be concerned about is HR2749, which grants the FDA a major expansion of power.
HR2749 would create the definition of “processing” to include everything up to home canning and private food processing. Processors would have to register, pay significant fees, submit a HACCP and food safety plan, failure to do so resulting in significant penalties. It also would require the traceability of all produce (tomato tracking, anyone), give the FDA the authority to quarantine and conduct warrantless searches of premises within given geographic regions, even if a food issue was only in the type of food not in the actual food produced on that premises. This subjects farms, including family farms, to direct regulation by the FDA over all aspects of farming. Failure to comply would result in fines, unintentional violations being subject to individual fines of $20,000 and corporate fines of $250,000 and criminal penalties including the possibility of 10 years in jail.
HR2749 passed the House in a closed rule (no amendments allowed; 1 hour maximum debate) vote on August 6th. The Senate has indicated it will take up its own version of the issue, S.510, upon return from the recess. McGeary urged attendees to stand up for food and farm freedom, and contact your Senators to oppose the draconian provisions and mandatory requirements of this legislation.