DownsizeDC.org
November 13, 2007
NAIS vote at any moment
By Jim Babka
Quotes of the Day:

"The disclosure of the reports could have a tendency to encourage the public's consideration of matters on the basis of misleading impressions."
- An Australian bureaucrat

"Yes, because nothing quite distorts public debate like the availability of relevant information."
- Australian citizen Tim Dunlop in sarcastic response

Subject: Is the USDA Attempting to Impede Watchdogs?

Urgent action needed: the Senate may vote this week on legislation containing a NAIS provision

DownsizeDC.org and 27 other groups signed a letter, distributed to every member of the United States Senate, calling for the rejection of a provision in the 2008 farm bill, which recently passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

That provision, Section 10305, would criminalize disclosure of information from the USDA's new proposed program, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

As readers of the Downsizer-Dispatch know, NAIS is a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which, if fully implemented, would require all farmers and livestock owners to individually identify their livestock animals and report each time any one of those animals are moved from one property to another, for any reason. This would impose a huge burden on family farms. 

The USDA says it is implementing the program to contain animal disease outbreaks like mad cow and reassure foreign meat buyers. DownsizeDC.org takes the position that it's a new regulation, designed to benefit large corporate farms at the expense of small family farms. Call it corporate welfare disguised as a trade and safety regulation.

There is no law that specifically authorizes the USDA to implement NAIS. In fact, the secrecy provision, Section 10305 in the current Senate farm bill, would be the first time that the USDA's new program would be explicitly acknowledged in a law passed by Congress.

The provision would open the door for harsh criminal or civil penalties on members of the public who might publish or in any way disclose information from the NAIS -- even if the information had been legally obtained! In other words, the USDA might now be able to punish watchdogs. As the list of signatories to the aforementioned letter attests, transparency and accountability groups from across the political matrix are rising up in opposition to Section 10305.

The USDA has begun creating a national database containing data on farm premises as the first step toward implementing NAIS. In some states, identification of individual animals has begun, although USDA plans have been slowed by fierce opposition to the program throughout the country.

Section 10305 sets a bad precedent. It would legitimize what the USDA already has been doing without legislative authorization -- collecting and storing extensive databases on every farm in the country -- while adding more secrecy to the process and suppressing opposition to NAIS.

Instead of passing Section 10305, the Senate should ask a more foundational question. Is NAIS a good, necessary, and constitutional program?

Since NAIS was first proposed many big agribusiness spokespersons have expressed concerns over how the program might compromise confidentiality of data about their production operations. Section 10305 is the lamest of attempts to protect this privacy. But as one activist, Ben Grosscup of the Northeast Organic Farming Association put it, "The best way to protect farmer's data is not to shut out the public. The best answer in this case happens to be the simplest: just don't collect the information in the first place."

Here's the problem in summation. In order to implement NAIS, the USDA will need to create a huge database to track all animal agriculture activities. Big corporations want NAIS. Smaller, family-owned operations don't. But the big corporations are concerned about their "privacy" under NAIS. And the USDA is all-too-happy to present a privacy proposal that will suppress opposition to NAIS.

"The same agribusiness firms that first wanted NAIS . . . are now trying to undo the one part of NAIS that they don't like" said Grosscup. 

Via DownsizeDC.org, more than 36,000 messages have been sent to Congress, opposing NAIS. We're asking you to send another message today, telling Senators AND Representatives (especially if your Senator is Tom Harkin of Iowa; hes Chair of the Agriculture Committee) that you oppose the anti-transparency, anti-watchdog provision Section 10305 in the 2008 Farm bill.

MONO-MANIACS WITH A MISSION

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Relentless progress will get the job done, so we plan to be relentless. Help us prepare to exploit the new political environment that will exist after the presidential primaries are over. Congressman Ron Paul has caused an explosion of public discussion about smaller government. This discussion must not end when the campaign ends, it must expand.

Here are the new monthly pledgers: David Clark, Mike Spalding, Monroe Jeffrey, David Sill, Shawn Loy, David Newberger, Deborah Trimmer, Nicholas Parisi, Ryan C Underwood, Tom Savage, Talya Shoup, Joshua Hicks, Carol Himes, Robert Brooks, Leona F Valencich, Terence Peterson, Sean M. Whipkey, John Ferguson

Here are the Downsizers who made one-time donations: Merl Webster, J. R. Greig, Benjamin Quatrano, Harry W Plott, Robert E Graham Sr, Patrick Krey, Barbara E Fitzpatrick, Sandy Huntress, Philip De Souza, Susan C Brown, W Michael O'Brien, Babs Smith, Robert L Knowlden, Kenneth Miller, William Wesson, Matt Luna, Theodore Skye Welch, Harry W. Plott, Judith A Shellabarger, Karen Roubal, Michael C Parish, Gregory Camia, Diane M McFarland, Chad Nelson, Beth Johnson, Kay Samalin, William Buchanan, Peter C Mapes, Louis R Colombo, Amy Mozzocchi, Mel Pinney, G. W. Kuhns, Robert A. Moore

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Thank you for being a DC Downsizer.

Jim Babka
President
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
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