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Ranchers Have Beef With USDA Program To ID Cattle 376

Ponca City, We Love You writes "The NY Times reports that farmers and ranchers oppose a government program to identify livestock with microchip tags that would allow the computerized recording of livestock movements from birth to the slaughterhouse. Proponents of the USDA's National Animal Identification System say that computer records of cattle movements mean that when a cow is discovered with bovine tuberculosis or mad cow disease, its prior contacts can be swiftly traced. Ranchers say the extra cost of the electronic tags places an onerous burden on a teetering industry. Small groups of cattle are often rounded up in distant spots and herded into a truck by a single person who could not simultaneously wield the hand-held scanner needed to record individual animal identities. The ranchers also note that there is no Internet connection on many ranches for filing to a regional database. 'Lobbyists from corporate mega-agribusiness designed this program to destroy traditional small sustainable agriculture,' says Genell Pridgen, an owner of Rainbow Meadow Farms. The notion of centralized data banks, even for animals, has also set off alarms among libertarians who oppose NAIS. One group has issued a bumper sticker that reads, 'Tracking cattle now, tracking you soon.' 'They can't comprehend the vastness of a ranch like this,' says Jay Platt, the third-generation owner of a 22,000 acre New Mexico ranch. 'This plan is expensive, it's intrusive, and there's no need for it.'"
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Ranchers Have Beef With USDA Program To ID Cattle

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  • Regulation (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:03PM (#28535399) Homepage Journal

    From the summary: "'Lobbyists from corporate mega-agribusiness designed this program to destroy traditional small sustainable agriculture,' says Genell Pridgen"

    It's true. When The Jungle was published, TR responded with the Pure Food and Drug Act, which regulated and inspected meat packing plants (he also went vegetarian for a little while, which, if you know TR, shows you how much he was affected by Sinclair's book).

    Contrary to what many people might think, the large meat companies supported the act. It 1) Improved public perception of the safety of meat, increasing sales, 2) Opened up American meats to the European market and 3) Added significant costs to the industry, which put their smaller competitors out of business.

    You can learn a lot from history.

  • Hmmm. (Score:3, Informative)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:07PM (#28535443) Journal

    The cost of the rfids would be practically nothing. They have to give them their shots anyway (mmmmm, tasty growth hormone), so that's just one more.

    The movement issue is more real, because the range on the readers is tiny, but we've all seen lab experiments where hackers read an rfid enabled card from 200 feet away with a cantenna, so I'm not inclined to believe this to be an unsolvable problem.

    And the internet thing is a joke. The amount of actual data collected would be pretty small (in the grand scheme). Uploading it every week or so wouldn't be a huge burden.

  • Re:Tracking (Score:3, Informative)

    by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:11PM (#28535515)

    Regarding the cost, I can't imagine that this would be more expensive that the cost of destroying entire herds of cattle when one cow comes down with a confirmed or probable case of these diseases.

    Its a risk many would prefer to take though. There is only a tiny risk that this might happen. On the other hand, for every cow you have you would need a microchip which would add a ton of costs. For a mega-farm this makes sense, for the average small rancher with 50 or so head of cattle, this only will send them into bankruptcy.

  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:5, Informative)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:27PM (#28535695)

    I say let it go down. Regulate them into the dust. (Full disclosure, I abhor the meat industry.)

    It's fair to have that opinion, but you do realize that a LARGE part of the economy is dependant on cattle. If you think the economy sucks now, let the "meat industry" (including dairy, fast food, grocery stores and numerous other) die.

    Even if it all doesn't fall down like dominoes (and it would), you're talking about a lot of people losing their jobs, most of the physical area of the US falling into economic decay. Maybe you didn't mean to flamebait, but geez, what you're talking about is pretty terrible stuff in reality.

  • Re:Tracking (Score:5, Informative)

    by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:32PM (#28535747)

    Internet access isn't a good excuse as a low-bandwidth cellular scanner would be enough to report via SOAP web-service to whatever database; not to mention that every industry has costs-of-doing-business and this will/could be one of those things.

    You assume far too much, out in the western US ranch country there is usually no communication services of any kind. I have a small (a few square kilometers) ranch in Nevada that is 20 miles from the next ranch (never mind a road), typical for western ranching operations. I get cellular reception -- one bar -- if I climb to the peak of the adjacent mountain, that several thousand extra feet gives me line-of-sight to an area near an Interstate highway 30-40 miles away.

    There seems to be a presumption (1) that western ranches are the size of hobby farms, (2) that they are located anywhere near infrastructure, and (3) that free-range cattle is a tidy local pasture-and-barn affair instead of a horseback operation in remote canyons. In many parts of the western ranching areas, you don't even locate all of your cattle for the better part of a year.

  • Actual costs? (Score:3, Informative)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:32PM (#28535749)

    They're hemming and hawing about the costs? It's about $6 per tag today. Economy of scale could drive that a lot lower. And the tags can be removed and recycled into a new animal (betcha didn't know that!) -- after being properly sterilized, of course. They last about a 100+ years. The reader itself, as a handheld model runs anywhere from $150 to $1000 depending on range and other options. It's not necessary for it to connect to the internet or anything like that -- and the amount of data we're talking about could be handled via a 9600 baud modem! It's just a serial number for crissakes. Yes, farmers have teh intarwebs too. -_-

    Each beef cow is worth about $800. Assuming 10% of the chips need to be replaced per... that's 60 cents. For something worth $800. The overhead here really is negligible, especially for a CAFO. That's an industrial feed lot, for those of you who don't know -- they're fed corn and kept in stalls, not grass-fed and left in fields. And did I mention it's all tax-deductible? Most everything on a farm is. Well, except you, that is. hehe.

    So, in short... It's bull. Literally and figuratively. //Disclaimers: I have five dots in Lore:Rural. I am also a computer geek.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:41PM (#28535851) Homepage

    Don't you realize that every violation of rights starts really really small?

    Aside from the fact that my post entire post was essentially a set up for a gag involving people being tranqed and tagged on the street, I was serious when I said this isn't a violation of rights of any kind whatsoever. They're cows. Making them trackable is no more a violation of rights than zoologists tagging birds to track migrations and populations like they've been doing for a long time now. It's nothing like tracking people. And the "right" of the rancher to sell unregulated meat was lost a long time ago, thank goodness, because I'd like to have more assurance that I'm not going to get sick eating some beef than a Consumer Reports grade or a complaint-ridden web forum.

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by j. andrew rogers ( 774820 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:46PM (#28535891)

    I call BS. If I stole a cow from one of those giant farms, the damn rancher'd be able to identify it in a second, but the instant you want to track something for public safety reasons, "there is no way they could ever collect that information."

    I call BS on your BS. If we were talking about corporate feed lots it would be one thing, but a very significant percentage of the US beef herd is raised by independent cattle producers on open range in very sparsely populated country. It can take months to find all of your cattle to tag them in the first place, so it is very easy to "lose" cattle without noticing. In fact, the law in the ranching areas I am familiar with is that you only have rights to your free-range cattle if you can find and tag them within the first year after birth, after which they enter the public domain (first person to tag them owns them). It is not at all uncommon for me to find a rancher's untagged cattle in one of my canyons.

    Beef ranching in the western US does not work the way you think it does. Much of the basic logistics of it have not changed much since the 19th century.

  • Pfft (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:46PM (#28535897)

    (Speaking as someone who works within one of the largest meatworks company in Australia, so each to their own)

    Over here in Australia, we have had a National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) RFID ear tags on cows for about the last 3 yrs.

    The tags themselves work out to about $3.50AU ea. The growers were a bit unhappy at the start but it was compulsory so they got over it. Im sure prices were jacked up accordingly to cover the cost.

    All the info is stored in a goverment owned db and at time of slaughter or sale can checked to confirm that the cow was free from disease.

    The most expensive part is probably the RFID wands as there is only one company in Australia that specializes in RFID wands for the cattle industry.

    Anyway, in the end. The small growers are still alive and doing well. Nothings really changed, except now there is a tracking system for cows to ensure quality meat.

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:47PM (#28535905)

    Actually, the giant farms would probably not be as difficult. Large farms have more people, many of whom probably do not work as much as the few people per small farm. They have economies of scale on larger farms, which means that if there is another administrative hurdle to cross, they already have a person on staff to deal with it, and it is probably their job. On a small farm, administration is time taken out of the other work time of the operational staff of the farm. Even a small amount of additional administration and regulation can turn into an issue.

    For those of you who understand the concepts, this regulation basically represents a flat percentage of extra effort; in taxes, we call that a regressive tax. You must spend the same amount of time to tag a steer on a small farm as a large farn, but like the poor vs. rich in the tax scenario, the rich can absorb a flat percentage without being really hurt by it.

    Now I am not saying that the tagging idea is impossible, but somehow you will have to account for the extra adminstrative time required out of people who already work from dawn to dusk and beyond every day just staying afloat. Their position is 100% valid, even if you think its "not all that expensive". Work is work, tags cost a unit price, and God help you if your report on so-and-so shipment was messed up, because it's all your fault when the government comes knocking to fine you.

    A lot of people in the US get upset with mega-corporations, but they forget that massive regulation requires an investment of time from the regulated. That means that it becomes yet another reason that mega-corporations take over. They can absorb these costs. Their bottom line may be affected, but it's merely a percentage. On a small farn that same percentage might be a significant portion of whatever small profits that they eke out. Small farms are *not* efficient, anyone who understands economics should know that. They provide some advantages, but many of those advantages (like a free and hard working population who are landowners) are intangibles that no one really factors in.

    I used to drive out to farms when I worked with my grandfather, who sold goods to farmers. Many people here would be shocked by what I saw in terms of the sacrifices that these people have to make to simply do what their families have been doing for centuries. These are people who don't need something else on their backs making their life even harder. Not if we don't want to see them or their children sell out to the agribusiness and move away.

    People think that all of these programs are no-brainers because "of course we want to track every animal to prevent CJ disease", but take a look at who is doing that work before you call it a win. Some of you are effectively calling some of the hardest working people on Earth "lazy" or "greedy". The concept of people sitting in their ergonomic chairs and making those sorts of statements sickens me from the pure ignorance that it represents.

  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:5, Informative)

    by parasonic ( 699907 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @07:58PM (#28536721)

    The "small rancher" is a myth, just like the "family farm".

    On what grounds do you say something so daft? Living in Georgia, I get all of my buffalo meat from a rancher with thirty head of buffalo in exchange for a little computer work every couple of weeks. If he offers beef, sometimes I'll take a little longhorn. Another friend gives me angus by the truckload because his parents have a small farm in Tennessee with a few dozen cattle. I know a lot of people with small active farms and ranches and do not personally know anyone who works for one of the big outfits. When I was a kid, we had a few hundred head of holsteins on our farm and were able to break even with milk sales. The truck came by from farm to farm to farm to fill up at these little dairies. Corporate "farming" may be the mainstay of our food supply, especially in the poultry industry, but please do not be so ignorant about this. The buffalo rancher was breaking even at $2.50/pound for ground bison but with the USDA inspection, he already has to mark it up to $4.00/pound after taking into consideration both inspection and transportation. Any such regulation on cattle does hurt the small man because not only does he not own his own slaughterhouse, but he has to transport his cattle elsewhere and has to deal with a lot more overhead per capita than the corporation.

    Besides being one step away from tagging humans--say prisoners guilty of certain crimes--this program would unquestionably harm the many small farms out there.

  • Cattle Tracking (Score:2, Informative)

    by TW Burger ( 646637 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:20PM (#28536903)
    This has been done in Canada for years. Although it was started with a bar code ear tag with a registration number rather than RFID it allowed a cow to be tracked from birth to market shelf. With RFID in place since 2005 the process is even easier and probably faster. []
  • Re:Regulation (Score:5, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:37PM (#28537917)
    Ok, where to start. Before addressing individual points. Anyone that uses words like "Poisonous Air" and "Super-incubators for viruses" is spreading FUD. No two ways about it. They have a political agenda, whether they admit it or not, and are obviously biased. The fact that you either were unwilling, unable to see that bias is rather frightening, but not uncommon. Now for your individual points.

    Nutritionists can tell you (in fact one is right now) that the feeding of animal byproducts to other animals is routine. Dog food contains meat, as does chicken, and the meat in question is not the top cuts I can assure you. The cattle got BSE from eating rendered sheep byproducts, not other cattle. Sheep have a prion disease know as Scrapie, which in the >200 years that we've known about it has never before jumped from one species to another. In fact, disease transmission by protein, as opposed to bacteria, virus, or fungi was only discovered with the isolation of the prion protein involved in both diseases. This discovery was as almost as revolutionary as germ theory itself. You cannot reasonably expect people to predict that which has never happened before will suddenly happen.

    There is no "Flu epidemic" in north america. The flu occasionally affects some herds, but in the 7 years I've been working where I have, we've only seen the flu once. It was not the "Swine Flu" that the media was losing their mind about either, it was H5N4 IIRC. AFAIK, there hasn't been a single case of the so called "Swine Flu" (ie H1N1) in any pigs north of the US, Mexican border. The disease was transmitted out of Mexico by Human-to-human contact. Honestly, how many people do you really believe bring their pigs with them when they travel to Europe, Australia and Asia when leaving Mexico?

    Also, if barns were as bad as your obviously biased reference states, then the first farmer to turn on the god damn FAN would seen incredible improvements in health and production and put the rest of the industry out of business nearly over night. Pigs are mammals, just like us. If they cannot breathe or are surrounded by toxins all the time, then they won't grow. They'll end up dying before they get to market, and no one will make any money. Why people such as yourself are willing to believe that animals will somehow grow in conditions that are toxic to them is beyond me. Do you not understand basic fucking biology? If you'd ever have taken a swine management class (as I have) you'd know just how much time is devoted to teach how to calculate the necessary air exchange rates based on season, flooring style, square feet/pig and building style. We had a whole exam on that.

    And before you go trotting out the old "Antibiotics" meme, stop right there. The only place I've seen antibiotics fed to pigs on a routine basis is in the weaning barn. weaning is very stressful for pigs, they are moving from a mostly sterile, liquid diet with highly digestible proteins and energy derived primarily from lipids to a diet that is no more sterile than the grass in your back yard, solid, containing a fair amount of indigestible proteins, and with energy derived primarily from carbohydrates. This causes the animal to switch both his internal digestive mechanisms, and deal with a sudden switch in the enteral bacteria colonizing the small and large intestine. All the antibiotics do is knock down the bad bugs long enough for him to make the transition smoothly and then are removed from the diet. Antibiotics are expensive and a small, sub-therapeutic does in the weanling diets will often prevent the need to use much larger therapeutic doses for a much longer period of time if the E. coli gets away from them and causes an outbreak of scours (diarrhea). Prior to the use of antibiotics in weanling diets, losses at this point were much higher than they are now, in fact we've never had higher weaning percentages before.

    The USDA has NEVER labeled pigs that eat pigs as safe. The reason is Trichin
  • by Jeeeb ( 1141117 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @01:23AM (#28538829)
    No we don't ;). I don't think you get how big Texas is. Anna Creek Station (Largest in Australia): 24,000km2 ( Texas: 696,241 km2 ( That said Anna Creek Station is still bigger than a number of nations. E.g. Wales, Israel, .etc.
  • Re:Sigh. (Score:3, Informative)

    by crmarvin42 ( 652893 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @08:10AM (#28540709)
    I fail to see why a small operation should be allowed to opt out of health and safety regulations that everyone else is required to obey. You are apparently one of those (in my option misguided) people that confuse the freshness of locally grown food with being healthier & safer. It's ok, my mother is as well.

    I don't know how things are run in Australia, but I've worked at small dairy farms in Massachusetts and Connecticut (Largest farm milked 110 cows at a time and the smallest milked ~25), and I can assure you that all sorts of things slipped by because there was not enough time in the day, or employees, or money to employ extra employees to take care of everything. I'm not knocking those farms, they did the best they could and I think did an adequate job. Even in 25-110 cow operations the larger farms had much more time to devote to managing their animals optimally. I now work at a University in the midwest that milks several hundred cows a day and the management of the animals is top notch despite the facilities being of an older less efficient design than most larger scale operations.

    Smaller operators have more to do and less resources with which to do it. That means they are more likely to cut corners out of necessity. A good example is one of the farms I worked for in CT. They milked ~35-40 cows at a time and turned them out to pasture in between milkings, ideal right? This would fit into the idealized picture that we all have of the rural dairy farm. However, 6 out of 7 days each week the cows would be walked to pasture on the other side of a stream that ran through the farm. They would walk into the water and then stop to cool off, defecating almost to a cow (35-40 milking cows and 10-20 dry cows/heifers), directly in the water before moving on across to the far bank and the fresh pasture. You can get away with that on a small farm because regulators aren't looking at the little guys, and if their is a complaint about the fecal coliform counts in the local water supply, they'll focus on the bigger farm just down the road.

    Large farms that are incorporated cannot be run like other large corporations. They exist in a market that is frequently unprofitable for everyone, through no fault of their own. Take hogs for example. The recent uproar over the unfortunately named "Swine Flu" has resulted in decreased demand for pork in the US (and probably much of the world). This has led to a decrease in the amount being paid for hogs at the processing plant, to a point where almost no one is making money off of their pigs. They are focusing on trying to lose as little money as possible while waiting for pork prices to rebound into a range that is once again profitable. But remember, if a pig hits market weight you have to send him for processing, you don't have the luxury of holding onto him and waiting because there are more sows farrowing, more piglets weaning, more pigs growing, and more pigs getting ready to enter the finishing barn that aren't going to stop eating and growing just because you want them to. In these situations they have to minimize losses while still preparing for the next profitable period. Short term profiteering of the sort large corporations are famous for is not feasible, because the fallout of that short sighted business plan will be insolvency in the future. Unlike the auto industry, no one comes in to bail out struggling dairy or swine farms. Instead they declare bankruptcy and then sell the land, animals and everything else to their neighbor. Eventually that neighbor that keeps buying the less competitive becomes a large enough farm that a large portion of the US no longer trusts him and wants him to fail in favor of his old neighbors that couldn't compete effectively. How on earth does that make sense.

    Free range eggs probably taste better to you for one of 2 reasons. It's either all in your head, or the fact that the free range chickens get to eat a lot more bugs and dead chicken which actually changed the flavor of the eggs. Fre
  • NAIS nightmare (Score:3, Informative)

    by Syntroxis ( 564739 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @08:24AM (#28540791)
    This act (NAIS) not only includes cattle, but chickens, pigs, goats, sheep, i.e. _any_ and _all_ farm animals. People have been fighting this act, and trying to raise awareness on it for over a year.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @09:50AM (#28541617) Homepage Journal
    True, but there are some states right now, TX and another one (Montana?) that are constructing laws to challenge this...something along the lines of handguns manufactured, stamped 'for in state sale/use only' or something, and defying any Federal gun regulations on the manufacture or sale of them. Should prove an interesting challenge.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:00PM (#28543533) ©2006 James Wesley, Rawles

    Note: Permission to reprint, repost or forward the following article in full is granted, but only if it is not edited or excerpted.
    From the Editors of
    The National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

    The USDA and the Agrobiz giants have been crafting a national animal identification scheme that threatens the traditional freedom of self sufficiency, the privacy of Americans, and the livelihood of organic farmers, and family farms. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is the creation of the Agrobiz giants Monsanto, Cargill Meat, National Pork Producers, and others to monopolize American food production using fear tactics to advance their agenda. The NAIS scheme was not created by any act of congress. Rather, it is merely a presumptuous bureaucratic dictate.

    The NAIS plan requires two types of mandatory registration for everyone who owns even just one "livestock" animal. Every person who owns even just one horse, donkey, chicken, pigeon, goat, llama, sheep, pig, cow, alpaca, duck, farmed fish, etc. must register their name, home address, telephone number and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates of their home in a Federal database. Secondly, in order for any animal to leave its birth farm, the owner will be required to obtain a Federal ID number for it which will be kept in a national data base and have the animal biochipped. Animals will have to be registered if they leave the farm for any reason; to go on a trail ride, to go to a show or fair, to be bought or sold, to be bred by a stud on another farm, or to be taken to the local butcher, or anywhere else. The most likely type of ID will be a bio-microchip containing a low power radio transmitter so that the chips can be read from a distance. NAIS would allow "industry" to decide if retinal scans and DNA samples would also be required. Of course large scale Agrobiz has exempted itself from individual identification. (Agrobiz producers will be allowed to use one ID number for groups of hundreds or even thousands of animals that are raised and processed together.)
    Americans will be required to report every time an animal enters or leaves their property, every time an animal loses a tag, every time a tag is replaced, the slaughter or death of an animal, or if an animal is missing. Such events must be reported in 24 hours or owners would suffer an as yet unspecified penalty. Small family farms and organic farmers will be driven out of business by the costs of premises registration fees, individual animal ID fees, event reporting fees, electronic tags or chips, electronic readers, home computers, Internet access, phone service, and reporting software. According to the USDA's plan all of these costs will be born by the animal owners.

    NAIS might enhance Agrobiz's export markets and allow tracing of animal movements to track disease outbreaks which is its stated goal. But it will not make the American consumer safer. The most common type of meat contamination in the United States is bacterial, such as E coli. and Listeria. It is not discovered until masses of people become ill. Since Agrobiz processes meat in huge packing plants with thousands of animals being slaughtered a day, NAIS is useless to determine if the contamination was from one animal, multiple animals, or unsanitary conditions at the packing plant itself. Contaminated meat from giant Agrobiz processor is sent to all 50 states endangering millions of consumers simultaneously. On the other hand family farms, organic farmers, and private citizens their animals in natural and healthy conditions because they are raising their animals for themselves and their neighbors' tables. When they are driven out of the market, America's food supply will become less safe not more so. The consolidation of America's food supply by Agrobiz makes it more vulnerable to terrorists. As Americas meat industry becomes a giant monopoly where all meat is processed in a few giant packing plants then it becomes easier fo

  • Re:Actual costs? (Score:2, Informative)

    by MikeV ( 7307 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @12:37PM (#28544341)

    It seems that the typical geek's attention span stops at the tech and fails to move on. RFID is irrelevant. It's not the tech that's the issue here. Tag away and be happy. It's the policies that are the issue. And BTW - this article is about cattle - but ALL LIVESTOCK are affected by this. Chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits. Heck, they may even try fish too before long. Maybe my honeybees. Policies are already in place that facilitate accurate and fast tracking of livestock. And ranchers and farmers are already paying a hefty fee for all this. NAIS is not something new, but rather a tightening of the noose - but a selective tightening in that mega-producers will get waivers while the jott and tittle letter of the rules will be stuck to the smaller producers with no waiver at all. Mega-producers will have records for herds rather than individual cattle and not have to chip them all. But wait - they already have that so nothing really changes for them. We, on the other hand, will have to chip everything and not just provide records for everything - which is good practice - but do so in a way that makes the Vogons look like hippy free-love liberals. It is above and beyond what is common sense or needed and is not addressing a problem but applying a wrench to our groin for the sake of it.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.