Public relations campaign on controversial program to be expanded at Senator's request
WATERTOWN (May 30, 2008)—At the request of state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Cape Vincent), the state Department of Agriculture and Markets will expand its outreach to farmers to explain participation in the National Animal Identification System.
"Our farmers have many questions and we need answers," Sen. Aubertine said. "These meetings will give Ag and Markets the opportunity to address the many concerns farmers have about NAIS, including how to opt out of it."
The state Department of Agriculture and Markets plans to move forward with a number of outreach initiatives, some to be established in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. The plan is to hold several large regional meetings with farmers as the department did last year, but will also schedule smaller town hall meetings with specialized groups of farmers, outreach at county fairs and a media campaign.
The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed the NAIS to keep track of animals as an effort to limit disease outbreak. The USDA calls it a modern, streamlined information system to respond to disease. In addition to tracking every property with farm animals, each individual animal would be required to have a radio-frequency transmitter to track its movement, while farmers report animal movements to the government.
Sen. Aubertine and many farmers contend that this program will burden small farms. Owners of pet horses and other farm-animal pets are also being made to enter into the program, which is voluntary at the moment but many expect that it will become a mandate once voluntary enrollment reaches a tipping point.
"Though this is a federal program through the USDA, it is the state agencies like Ag and Markets here, which are left with the task of registering farms, farmers and their animals," Sen. Aubertine said. "If it's voluntary, how do I opt out? How can I get them to take us off the list? What's the process? That's what farmers want to know."
The Senator has also introduced legislation relating to NAIS. If passed, his bill would require the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to conduct a formal survey of farmers about NAIS and provide them the opportunity to back out of the program.
"Some have tried to frame this as a food safety issue, but it's not. Food safety begins with the slaughter of the animal, which is where NAIS ends," Sen. Aubertine said. "We're being saddled with this program to show off new technology. NAIS offers minimal or no protection for the consumer or farmers."