Thursday, April 5, 2007

yet another ethical dilema

I was clicking through a beautiful blog put up by FarmGirl from Missouri (and who by all appearances seems to be a natural born cook) when I serendipitously clicked on something that made what's left of the hair on my head stand up at attention: a petition to the USDA insisting that it abandon a program that will require everyone who has livestock to register their farms and animals.

I chatted with FarmGirl about this via an email exchange and she seems pretty upset about it. She wrote,
"Small farmers will nearly all be wiped out--myself included. We won't even be able to keep a couple of chickens for our own eggs or raise a lamb for meat without paying huge fees, installing chips in the animals, and filling out tons of paperwork."

The USDA program that has FarmGirl and other small farmers so upset seems to have been created in response to recent occurrences of mad cow disease, the coming threat of Avian influenza viri H5 & H7 and the need to assure domestic and foreign markets that US food products are safe to consume.

If universally adopted, the NAIS (National Animal Inspection Service) program would give anyone who owns livestock a PIN (Premises Identification Number). Each animal would also be assigned an AIN (Animal Identification Number) linked to the PIN and have an RFD (Radio Frequency Device) chip installed with the PIN and AIN numbers, and additional information such as date of birth, species data, lineage etc.

The ultimate goal appears to be to give the USDA the ability to trace the animals as they move from the farm to the supermarket. So if an animal suddenly shows sign of disease, it'd be easier to discover where it became infected. Also if someone eats something that makes him ill, the source of the disease vector can be located quickly. However, there does not appear to be any mechanism in place to do this at the present time.

I must confess to being a bit puzzled by FarmGirl's reaction to the economic implications of NAIS to herself and other small farmers -from all appearences the program appears to be voluntary.

It may be that she believes that the USDA's claim that the NAIS is voluntary is specious and that there is some secret plan afoot to make it mandatory. But I doubt it.

It's more likely that the real threat of mandatory compliance will come from the state level of government. And what FarmGirl and others are really worried about is that individual states will seek to protect their agricultural markets by forcing all owners of livestock to comply. If that happens, then depending on what state they are in, a farmer with a cow and two chickens and ten acres to tend, could be in for big trouble.


Maya said...

The irony is that (in my opinion) small farms seem like they would be less likely to have diseased animals get lost in the shuffle and more likely to be responsible for the public's health.

FaustianBargain said...

maya, that is not necessarily true. in 2001, the british foot and mouth disease crisis began in a small family owned northumberland pig farm. seven million animals were culled. every animal in and around farms were the infection was supposed to have spread was killed and burned and all exports were banned. anyone walking around in farm dirt could be a possible vector. it was horrendous.

having said all that, i am not advocating intensive farming or animal husbandry. far from it. i am only saying that there is some sense and logic to all this. just my 2c.

FaustianBargain said...

gah...badly scribbled thoughts above..but you get the idea.

Maya said...

Faustianbargain, I do think that we have a real potential crisis with bird flu, and I'm glad the USDA is doing something. Sadly I think the only real solution is a poultry ban, which will never happen.

Faustianbargain, I have to tell you I'm tempeted to dissect your online name, but I guess I should read your blog first.

FaustianBargain said...

maya, i dont think that poultry ban is a solution as the avian influenza can spread through any kind of bird..especially migratory birds. as we saw in germany, pets like cats can be infected by the bird flu. honestly, i cannot think of any creative solution for the bird flu. less intensive poultry raising practices may this point, i have to question the sense of 'organic' practices. sometimes the gifts of science like antibiotics and vaccines are a blessing. i think the key is to strike a balance. to let ourselves be guided by science and technology instead of OD'ing on it for greed and profits.

one solution, not neccesarily wrt the bird flu, is to limit the number of animals raised per sq acreage. cheap food is a problem now. consider this, a lb of cooked fast food burger is probably cheaper than a lb of organic, seasonal vegetables that is deemed fit for human consumption. it takes more $ to grow per bushel of corn than the amount of money it takes to buy/sell it because of the subsidies. it boggles the mind! the system is so screwed up and broke that the known laws of economics and nature have to be unearthed again.

oh yes..someone should put a curse on monsanto to make it disappear overnight. its a vast topic..i cant help but ramble on...oh well...

and re my handle, you wont find anything revealing in my blog..:)