Wednesday, November 17, 2010

As if the federal government doesn't already have more than enough to do . . .

I've been listening to lectures from past Acres USA conferences (2007 and 2008) and have heard quite a bit about NAIS (National Animal Identification System--a federal program "intended to identify animals and track them as they come into contact with, or commingle with, animals other than herdmates from their premises of origin" but that actually places unbelievable financial and paperwork burdens on even backyard keepers of a few chickens, ducks, or goats (not to mention larger animals like horses, donkeys, cows or pigs).

According to the NAIS regulations, every property on which any such animals are kept is supposed to be registered with the federal government, and, then, unless the owner of such animals also owns and/or operates the meat or egg processing plant, every individual animal is also supposed to receive a unique, 15-character animal identification number which is to be attached directly to the animal itself. And--just as FedEx and UPS now track and report the movements of every item throughout their distribution systems, so the movements of every animal are supposed to be tracked and reported to the federal government.

NAIS was supposed to be "voluntary" (ha ha!), but with federal muscle behind it, Wisconsin, the first state to implement the regulations, made it absolutely mandatory. --Interestingly, the registration system, mandated by law, is "not maintained by state government, but instead relies upon the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC) to maintain the database of Premises ID registrants. This is currently continuing with the RFID tagging database as well.[19] The WLIC is a private interest group made up of Big Agribusiness, including Cargill, Genetics/Biotech Corporations, like ABS Global, and RFID tagging companies such as Digital Angel[20]. . . . There are also in fact only 6 RFID tags that are approved by WLIC/NAIS at this time: 2 manufactured by Allflex, 2 by Digital Angel, one by Y-Tex and 1 by Global Animal Management. All four are WLIC members." (Wikipedia article on the National Animal Identification System.

Now we are told that, as of February 2010, NAIS was being abandoned in order to
re-focus its efforts on a "new framework" for animal traceability. The Secretary stated the new framework would apply only to animals that cross state lines and would encourage the use of low-tech methods of identification.

The USDA's announcement sparked widely divergent reactions. Groups representing independent farmers and local consumers applauded the USDA's decision. But the proponents of NAIS, namely the Big Ag and Big Tech groups, expressed disappointment and issued statements about the horrible things that could supposedly happen without a centralized ID system. These pro-NAIS entities quickly re-grouped and announced plans to adopt "model regulations" (i.e. NAIS-type regulations) at the State level.

But the issue is also still far from over even at the federal level. Despite USDA's announcement, Big Ag and Big Tech are pushing for a more expansive federal program. And key bureaucrats who developed NAIS continue to work within the agency, and they do not seem to have changed their views despite the announcements from the top.

--Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (F2CLDF)

Oh! But we haven't begun to discover how far the federal government is wanting to extend its grip into issues for which one would think the interstate commerce clause should limit its reach.

Now comes Senate Bill 510, due for a vote any day now. Possibly even today.

And what does SB510 have to say? Well, here's a rather calm review of some of its more egregious features.
  • It will "enable FDA potentially to regulate all farms marketing food products direct to consumers even if the farms engage only in intrastate commerce." --In other words, the local farmers who sell in your local farmer's market: They will be subject to federal oversight. Your neighbor who owns a few chickens and sells or gives you eggs: Such behavior will be subject to federal (FDA) oversight.

    If you think it’s a good idea to give FDA more power,
    • Here are the agency’s views on your freedom to obtain the foods of your choice; these are direct quotations from the agency’s response to a lawsuit the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (F2CLDF) filed earlier this year challenging the interstate ban on raw milk for human consumption:
      • "There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food." [A--p. 25]
      • "There is no 'deeply rooted' historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds." [A--p. 26]
      • "Plaintiffs' assertion of a 'fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families' is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish." [A--p. 26]
      • "There is no fundamental right to freedom of contract." [A--p. 27]
    • For those who think it is a good idea to give the FDA more power, here are some of the products FDA has allowed in the marketplace:
      • MSG (monosodium glutamate),
      • high fructose corn syrup (HFCS),
      • aspartame,
      • genetically-modified organisms (GMOs),
      • Avandia (prescribed for type 2 diabetes) and
      • Vioxx (arthritis pain medication).
      If none of these items alarms you, I guess I have not been doing my job! There is strong evidence of major human health problems related to each and every one of these substances. But the FDA has done nothing to protect us.

      Meanwhile, as reported here a few days ago, the FDA is standing in the way of full disclosure of health benefits of good foods like tart cherries and walnuts, claiming that any producer or distributor of such products who associates any health benefits to these items--even if the benefits are well-documented in peer-reviewed scientific papers--the producer/distributor is engaged in the illegal sale of an unapproved drug until it has submitted its specific cherries or walnuts (or whatever) to a costly FDA approval process. . . .

      And we are interested in permitting them more power?
Linn Cohen-Cole wrote a powerful post on an earlier (and less-egregious-than-it-is-now) version of the same bill:
Wisdom says stop a bill that is broad as everything yet more vague even than it is broad.

Wisdom says stop a bill that comes with massive penalties but allows no judicial review.

Wisdom says stop a bill with everything unspecified and actually waits til next year for an unspecified “Administrator” to decide what’s what.

Where we come from, that’s called a blank check. Who writes laws like that? ”Here, do what you want about whatever you want and here’s some deadly punishments to make it stick.”

Wisdom says know who wrote that bill and be forewarned.

Wisdom says wake up.

Here’s the bill. Let’s use our imaginations and extrapolate from the little bit it reveals and from the reality we know.


(a) Authorities- In carrying out the duties of the Administrator and the purposes of this Act, the Administrator shall have the authority, with respectto food production facilities, to–

(1) visit and inspect food production facilities in the United Statesand in foreign countries to determine if they are operating in compliance with the requirements of the food safety law;

(2) review food safety records as required to be kept by the Administrator under section 210 and for other food safety purposes;

(3) set good practice standards to protect the public and animal health and promote food safety;

(4) conduct monitoring and surveillance of animals, plants, products, or the environment, as appropriate;

(5) collect and maintain information relevant to public health andfarm practices.

(b) Inspection of Records-
A food production facility shall permit the Administrator upon presentation of appropriate credentials and at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner, to have access to and ability to copy all records maintained by or on behalf of such food production establishment in any format (including paper or electronic) and at any location, that are necessary to assist the Administrator–

(1) to determine whether the food is contaminated, adulterated, or otherwise not in compliance with the food safety law; or

(2) to track the food in commerce.

(c) Regulations- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Administrator, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and representatives of State departments of agriculture, shall promulgate regulations to establish science-based minimum standards for the safe production of food by food production facilities. Such regulations shall–

(1) consider all relevant hazards, including those occurring naturally,and those that may be unintentionally or intentionally introduced;

(2) require each food production facility to have a written food safety plan that describes the likely hazards and preventive controls implemented to address those hazards;

(3) include with respect to growing, harvesting, sorting, and storage operations, minimum standards related to fertilizer use, nutrients, hygiene, packaging, temperature controls, animal encroachment . . . and water;

Ah, such a little paragraph, and so much evil packed in it. Notice they mention harvesting, sorting and storage operations? Notice they never mention seeds? But they are precisely what those words cover.
Come again? What's that? Why this concern about seeds?

Because, Cohen-Cole says, that is exactly what these kinds of regulations are always about: maximizing profits for Big Ag (the Monsantos and Cargills of the world). [Interesting: That is what the F2CLDF also says: "[The] FDA’s true clients are not the American people but rather the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries."

But, but . . . wait a second! What do seeds have to do with Big Ag? And why this interest in seeds?

  • Watch where Monsanto is and has been going for the last 15 to 20 years, say the observers. Monsanto has been aiming for a monopoly on seed production worldwide. And they are getting closer than most of us would care to know!

Cohen-Cole writes:
When you know that Monsanto with the help of the US government plundered ancient and rare seed banks in Iraq that held seeds with a genetic heritage (a biohistory belonging to all of us) going back 1000s of years and then made it a crime for farmers there to collect or use their own normal and non-patented seeds off their own land, you see how extreme the intent to control is. . . .

The Iraqis are now utterly at the mercy of Monsanto and the US for survival itself and will have to pay whatever prices are set for food. They can no longer just grow their own and be free people. So, no matter what form of government they may ever have, as long as this is true, they are now enslaved because the control over them is that extreme. Kissinger was right – control food and you control people. . . .

In Afghanistan, people are buying and planting beans from America which at the end of the season have nothing whatever inside, the pods are empty. In Ecuador, the potatoes there do not develop eyes so can’t be planted next season to grow potatoes.

Biotech’s claim to care about feeding starving multitudes is belied by its blocking human access to normal seeds and its terminator technology (empty beans). Monopoly is monopoly is monopoly. And at this level, and when it comes to seeds which are life itself, monopoly terminates democracy as well as beans.
Please, read The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin I told you about a few days ago.

"Watch how they will be able to easily criminalize seed banking and all holding of seeds," Cohen-Cole writes.
First, to follow how this will be done, you must understand that:

1. there is a small list inside the FDA called “sources of seed contamination” and

2. the FDA has now defined “seed” as food,

3. so seeds can now be controlled through “food safety.” . . .

Farmers, gardeners, seed saving exchanges, seed companies, scientific seed projects, and seed banks, all require sorting. All are working overtime to protect biodiversity that is rapidly disappearing specifically because of genetic engineering. As Monsanto began reducing access to seeds, people around the world have worked hard to compensate.

But now the effort is to take over the whole game, going after even these small sources of biodiversity – by simply defining seeds as food and . . . all farmers’ affordable mechanisms for harvesting (collecting), sorting (seed cleaning) and storing (seed banking or saving) as too dirty to be safe for food.

Set the standard for “food safety” and certification high enough that no one can afford it and punish anyone who tries to save seed in ways that have worked fine for thousands of years, with a million dollar a day fine and/or ten years in prison, and presto, you have just criminalized seed banking.

The penalties are tremendous, the better to protect us from nothing dangerous whatsoever, but to make monopoly over seed absolutely absolute. One is left with control over farmers, an end to seed exchanges, an end to organic seed companies, an end to university programs developing nice normal hybrids, and an end to democracy – reducing us to abject dependence on corporations for food and gratitude even for genetically engineered food and at any price. . . .

There are three other items of the list which surely will be controlled as well. In toto, that little list of six items (agricultural water, manure, harvesting, transporting and seed cleaning equipment, and seed storage facilities) contains the pieces to deconstruct farming itself, especially organic farming.
Oh, there is more, much more! Please take a look at the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund page about S510. As I said above, it is non-alarmist. But it ought to cause your hair to stand on end.

The article was written in September and concludes,
S510 is not about protecting the public health but rather about increasing federal control over food and transferring market share from the local food system to the industrial food system. The bill grants broad rulemaking power to FDA, a grant not merited by the agency’s track record. Its passage will cripple local food over time.

There have been reports in the media that S510 is dead. Don’t believe them. The bill could still be brought to the Senate floor before Congress’ pre-election break and it could also be brought up for a vote during a lameduck session after the elections.
Guess what? Cloture was passed yesterday. It is being voted on during the lameduck session. It is time to take action.

For more on the subject, see S510 Talking Points by Pete Kennedy, Esq.

And for a relatively easy method of figuring out how to communicate with your senators, go to the F2CLDF's Action Page.
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