Muck and Mystery
   Loitering With Intent
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February 25, 2006

That's the USDA proposed National Animal Identification System. Use a chicken, go to jail.

ndeed, the only general systems of permanent registration of personal property in the United States are systems administered by the individual states for two items that are highly dangerous if misused: motor vehicles and guns. It is difficult to imagine any acceptable basis for the Department to subject the owner of a chicken to more intrusive surveillance than the owner of a gun.

For example, whereas the owner of a long gun generally can take the gun and go hunting beyond the confines of his or her own property without notifying the government, the Department proposes that the chicken owner, under pain of unspecified "enforcement," must report within 24 hours any instance of a chicken leaving or returning to the registered property. (Standards, pp. 13, 18-19, 21; Plan, p. 17.)

Even more important than the trammeling of basic property rights under the program is the insult to fundamental human rights, which must remain free from government interference.

* See; Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 565 (2003).
* These fundamental human rights include decisions about nutrition and bodily integrity.
* See also; Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dept. of Health, 497 U.S. 261 (1990);
* See also; Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952).

Surely it is overreaching for the Department to propose, as it has, the constant surveillance of one's home and animals when the citizen is only attempting to raise food for the household or for a limited local area, and there is no intention of distributing the food on a wider scale.

The foregoing numerous constitutional infirmities are bound to enmesh the Department and state governments in extremely costly litigation for years to come. Therefore, please reconsider the Department's plans to institute a program so at odds with fundamental American values.

The problems are real. Bird flu, BSE, anthrax etc. have economic and health impacts on nations that get infected. Avian flu is coming. The fear is so great that even just an accusation can do economic harm if the nation cannot prove itself innocent: guilty until proven innocent. The danger in this as in so many things is that the cure will be worse than the disease.
As discussed above, the NAIS is a violation of civil rights, extremely expensive and burdensome, likely to be ineffective, and not justified by human health, animal health, or food safety considerations. Given these numerous and probably insurmountable flaws, the Department should carefully consider alternative methods that would be much more successful in accomplishing the stated objectives.

The security of America's food supply and the resilience of livestock in the face of diseases are best served by the decentralization and dispersal of food production and processing, and of the breeding and maintaining of livestock. If more citizens could depend on food raised and processed within, say, 100 miles of their homes, the danger of large-scale disruptions would be minimized, the costs of transport would be less affected by volatile fuel prices, and any food-borne diseases that might occur would be contained by the natural geographic limits of the system.

Similarly, if animals, such as cattle, for example, are kept in small herds of, say, ten to a hundred animals, infectious diseases will have much more difficulty in spreading beyond a discrete geographical area. In this regard, the NAIS would actually be counterproductive, since it would tend to drive more small producers and small processors out of business. Thus, the Department should consider an approach and programs to support and promote smaller, local herds and local food processing.

The needs of small holders have been consistently disregarded for quite a long time. There is merit to the above argument that the severity of current threats in hugely increased by the resultant system of mass production and consumption. We have an interesting conflict here since the needs of big ag and global traders are great, they are seriously threatened and have already suffered set backs, but the proposed solutions will further erode the distributed small holder network that many are coming to see is a solution to not only this problem but a host of other food related failures.


Cold Turkey.

Detection of the A(H5N1) flu strain on a turkey farm in eastern France represented the first time the virus had been found in farm animals in the 25 countries of the European Union.

France had already been reeling from the news that a wild duck, found dead nearly two weeks ago in the department of Ain, the same area where the turkey farm is situated, had been infected.

Those fears, followed by the confirmation on Saturday that a farm with a flock of 11,000 turkeys had been struck by the disease, have sent poultry sales plummeting.

Although the official estimate of market loss is 30 percent, some officials at the Rungis wholesale market in Paris reported a drop of close to 50 percent in the past two days.

The detection of the avian flu virus threatens not only to transform the eating habits of the country, but also to damage the export market for the poultry products of France, the largest producer in Europe and the fourth largest market in the world.


Cold Duck.

A research paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, published online on February 10th, shows that the H5N1 virus has persisted in its birthplace, southern China, for almost ten years and has been introduced into Vietnam on at least three occasions, and to Indonesia. The authors suggest that such transmissions are perpetuated mainly by the movement of poultry and poultry products, rather than by migrating birds.

This is significant because it strongly supports bird conservationists, who have been arguing that most outbreaks in South-East Asia can be linked to movements of poultry and poultry products, or infected material from poultry farms, such as mud on vehicles or people's shoes. Conservationists also argue that live animal markets have played an important role in the H5N1's spread. Such markets were the source of the first known outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 when 20% of the chickens in live poultry markets were infected.

BirdLife International, a conservation group, reckons there are three likely transmission routes for H5N1: commercial trade and the movement of poultry; trade in wild birds; and the use of infected poultry manure as agricultural fertiliser.


Turkey Turkey.

Since the beginning of 2006 Turkey has had 21 confirmed cases of human infection with the virulent H5N1 avian influenza. Of these, four have been fatal. The spread of human cases, the first outside East Asia, poses a growing risk to the Turkish economy, particularly the booming tourism sector.

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back40 at Muck and Mystery has a good roundup of information on the proposed NAIS legislation and why it represents a direct violation of several Constitutional Amendments. I had written about it here before: NAIS - your government at work......[read more]
Tracked: March 1, 2006 10:01 PM


Thank you for writing about NAIS. More people need to know how NAIS is going to hurt small farmers and homesteaders and then ultimately consumers as our national food supply becomes consolidated into the hands of fewer and fewer larger corporations. Even vegetarians will pay the price because good organic veggies are grown in composts of animal manure. With fewer animals being raised organically in the traditioanl manner there will be less manure.


Walter Jeffries
Sugar Mountain Farm
in Vermont

Posted by: Walter Jeffries at March 8, 2006 11:36 AM

Hi Walter,

Why do more people need to know about NAIS? All of those who have the background and interest already know. Some who have no involvement and little interest may still find it of casual interest, the kind of thing you can read about a little on some blog, but they will remain rationally ignorant since they have other things to spend their limited energies knowing.

I suspect what you really mean isn't that they should know about these things so much as that they should remain rationally ignorant but hold irrational ideologies that can be leveraged for political gain by others.

I think not. There's too much politics already. No good comes of it.

Posted by: back40 at March 8, 2006 05:28 PM

"Why do more people need to know about NAIS? All of those who have the background and interest already know. Some who have no involvement and little interest may still find it of casual interest, the kind of thing you can read about a little on some blog, but they will remain rationally ignorant since they have other things to spend their limited energies knowing."

Wow! What an exclusive club you want the world to be. Why do more people need to know? Because it will hurt them. NAIS is being kept very hush-hush by the USDA. They bury the regulations and the meaning and consequence. We are supposed to have a democracy and that means people need to know what is going on so they can vote appropriately. The vast majority of people who find out about NAIS feel it is a bad idea. We need more people to know so that NAIS can be modified to fit the real world. Right now it is a very badly designed regulation that looks like it was pieced together by desk jockies who have no idea what life is like on small farms and homesteads. It is one size fits all where that just does not work.

Posted by: Walter Jeffries at March 10, 2006 09:35 AM

It's not true that NAIS is hushed up, it's widely discussed among those who have an interest. The ag lists are on fire with discussion and have been that way for some time.

It is true that the consequences of the regulations are largely unknown, but this is always the case. It's an argument against regulation, but few will listen since they mistakenly dream that they can steal a march somehow with regulations that favor them. Greed and indifference to the needs of others is a problem.

The idea that people who have no background might usefully determine regulations by voting is empty. They will not make informed or intelligent decisions. They will remain ignorant of the issues since it isn't worth their effort to become informed, and support irrational ideologies instead since they won't personally bear the costs.

I think that you may have confused majoritarianism with democracy. In a democracy what is important is to listen to others and learn what they desire and what would harm them, and then avoid actions that would be to their disadvantage as well as your own. It requires governance actions that do no harm, a difficult requirement seldom met.

With majoritarianism there is not thought for the welfare or preferences of others, you just try to get a bigger gang and force it down their throats. Majorities are irrelevant except to force others to do things against their best interests.

Gang warfare doesn't result in good governance. It may seem foolish to stand aside and try to reason with gangs intent on dominating one another - they don't listen - and it is a bit foolish, but I also ridicule them - point and laugh - for being such dullards. It hasn't had any useful effects yet. I figure it may take another 400 years or so.

Posted by: back40 at March 10, 2006 03:39 PM