Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cattle ID Plan Unnecessary, Expensive and Intrusive

A plan by the federal government to implement a national identification system for cattle has run into intense opposition from ranchers. This should come as no surprise when one examines the flawed and intrusive plan.

The Department of Agriculture wants to mark cattle with electronic tags and a centralized computer database to track the movements of livestock in order to monitor possible outbreaks of animal diseases. It's called the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS. Its utility in fighting animal diseases is debatable, but even if it were effective it would only matter to large agribusiness operations and would have little or no benefit to small, independent ranchers.

The opposition to NAIS from independent ranchers is understandable. First of all, they would bear the financial cost, which would be enormous. Each electronic tag would cost at least $2, and requiring one for every single animal would add enormously to the cost of doing business at a time when the poor economy is already hitting the livelihood of independent ranchers. The time and effort that ranchers would have to spend in sending reports to the federal government, as they would have to do whenever an animal died or changed premises, would add even more to their already heavy burden.

Aside from the cost to independent ranchers, NAIS would also represent a significant increase in the administrative structure of the Department of Agriculture, the costs of which would be on the shoulders of federal taxpayers. Considering our disastrous national fiscal situation, we need to be shrinking the federal government, not making it bigger.

There also objections to the NAIS, interestingly enough, on the grounds of the separation of church and state. Amish farmers have opposed the plan because they see tagging livestock "as making a mark", which they consider sinful. They also believe that the use of electronic technology violates their right to live in their traditional, non-technological lifestyle. The federal government has absolutely no right to interfere with the religious lives of citizens, as specified by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Giant agribusiness corporations are supportive of the plan, and no wonder. It fits nicely into their efforts to export meat products to foreign countries, and the added costs would be compensated for them by increased profits. But small independently-run and family-owned ranches have no such advantages, and the added costs will certainly drive a large number of them out of business. Indeed, some of these ranchers believe that one of the true motives on the part of NAIS supporters is to help agribusiness drive small operators out of business.

Independent ranchers are generally people of strong Jeffersonian impulses, determined to remain independent from both government and corporate control. Anything that threatens their economic well-being is a threat to 21st Century Jeffersonianism. But this plan represents more than an economic threat to independent ranchers; it represents yet another example of the federal government increasing its power to intervene in the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. This is a federal program that we certainly need to get rid of, and the sooner the better.

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