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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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  • Tracking (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Ohio Calvinist ( 895750 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:07PM (#28535461)
    The difference is that if a person contracts a disease that is a public health risk, the person is generally able to tell physicians who he/she might have had contact with so that person can get treatment, possibily saving their life and slowing the disease spread. Cows can't tell investigators where they have been and who should be notified.

    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. Being able to isolate the infected could decrease the numbers needed to be destoyed saving money. The difference is that farms can claim the loss of the animal in insurance which is a sunk cost, versus a preventative cost. This would save money upstream as well in the form of smaller recalls to distributors, which seem to happen more and more frequently in the US.

    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.

    I haven't read enough to comment on the implementation of this plan but on the surface, I can't see why this wouldn't be a good idea from a public health perspective.
  • by Spacepup ( 695354 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:23PM (#28535639)

    In this case the farmers are right. The cattle are branded with a unique brand so the rancher knows who it belongs to. In addition, cattle are given an eartag so that the slaughter houses can tell where they came from. Cattle comes from two sources...large industrial like feedlots where the cattle are crowded into a small area and fed grain ...or on ranches where they go free range and graze on grasses. Since a large operation would have maybe 1000 head of cattle, it can be presumed that from the ear tags, if a slaughtered cow is found to have some disease at the slaughter house, it can be narrowed down to one ranch or feed lot.

    Now, because of the close confines of the feedlot, it can easily be presumed that the sick cow came into close proximity with all the other cattle there. And so the new technology is just simply not needed, it's a wasteful expense.

    For the rancher, equiping each of his hands with a scanner gets expensive. The data is instantly intrusive, as in "why didn't you pasture your cows this way" and in some instances could easily be used by overzealous groups (ie peta) to grief ranchers about their animal husbandry practices.

    All in all, it's a lot of expense, a lot of trouble, and a lot of intrusion, for very little is actual gain. In the efforts at finding disease, relying on this system alone to reduce the number of animals tested could mean that positives slip by because they weren't tested as they didn't show up in the contact list for the sick cow.

  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:27PM (#28535687) Journal
    There is no way an RFID costs $50. Fifty cents, maybe. Besides, cows are all ear tagged now anyways, so it's really a matter of shifting the cost from an ear tag to an RFID. In other words, apart from the reader there would be no net change of cost. The only people whose way of life this might ruin would be the Mennonite/Amish.
  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tcopeland ( 32225 ) <tom@thomaslee[ ] ['cop' in gap]> on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:31PM (#28535737) Homepage

    > This regulation would hurt the small sustainable ranchers who are
    > teetering on the edge of being able to compete, while benefiting
    > the large-scale industry that you abhor.

    So true! There's an unholy alliance between big business and big government; there's a list of examples in Timothy Carney's latest column []. For more of the same, he's also the author of The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money [].

  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:36PM (#28535787)

    (I'm a different AC.)

    I don't want to go so far as to call you an idiot, but I'll note that "this is going to hurt the small sustainable ranchers while benefiting the large-scale industry" is a CLAIM made by those small ranchers, not necessarily a fact. It's in the summary, yes, but it shouldn't be treated as fact right away.

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:42PM (#28535855) Homepage

    I talked recently to a small farmer with a few cows. They are already required to document entry and exit of cattle into and out of each county. Since their farm has multiple fields which are in two separate counties, they are required to submit this documentation each time they move an animal between the two fields. Which is of course stupid, but the regulations were designed without any consideration for a split-county operation like this.

    This person has maybe 20 head, total. With the existing regulations it is almost too much to bother with. Adding more tracking, with more hardware requirements and obviously training for all hands involved it is going to be impractical for them to continue.

    Yes, there were some feed problems for cows. Most of these problems have been identified and dealt with. I suspect there are still a few, but nothing that is going to create anything like the mad cow panic. Piling more and more regulation, especially regulation that is not focused on real problems buy imaginary ones, will simply mean that all cattle are raised by factory farms.

  • by xmiker ( 1491397 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @06:48PM (#28535911)
    If Australian cattle farmers, including the operators of the 6,000,000 acre Anna Creek Station ( in South Australia can implement tagging of all of their cattle, why can't you Americans just do it as well, instead of whining? I take it the US won't be complaining when Japan, Korea and the European Union don't want to buy their untraceable beef. (
  • I say let it go down. Regulate them into the dust.
    (Full disclosure, I abhor the meat industry.)

    While the meat industry, and food industry in general, is guilty of a swathe of scandals, it's important to remember that without that industry, few of us would eat as well as we do.

    If we want to have cheap, (reasonably) nutritious food, then some policies of the food industry are going to have to be tolerated to a certain degree. This doesn't mean we should accept all of the repulsive practices that the industry has come up with. But it does mean that our meat is not always going to come to our table via paths we'd like it to take.

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @07:15PM (#28536253)

    I have some knowledge on this subject...

    The issue isn't with the "giant farms." Corporate farms will be fine, it's the remaining hold outs, those who specialize in small market farming, or supplement their income with farming. They'll be hit hard and those who farm for a living, maybe with 100 or less head of cattle, will be in serious trouble. Taxes on farmers are unreasonably high when looking at small scale farming operations, as those taxes were established without their consideration. Further, considering the number of land owners who have inherited land over the years and our forced to farm in order to avoid taxes, taxes of such proportion as the land must be sold in order to pay them without considerations taken for agricultural use.

    I've seen the results of taxes directed at land owners and small scale farmers since I was born. I live in Mideastern Ohio and I can say, this area is dead. There were several times as many farmers and local businesses, 20 years ago, as there are today. Jobs are gone and the local economy in shrinking. This is not an isolated case, increasing taxes are reversing economic growth in what were, prior to their enactment, growing economies. Without consideration for the effect of these new operational costs on the smaller businesses, you simply kill them, weaken the regions local economy, and create monopolies.

    When considering the goals of these chips and their assorted cost. It becomes especially heinous, when taking into account, small farms are already exceptionally good at preventing and identifying disease before the product goes to market. With a manageable herd, owned and managed by a single person, it's almost unheard of for a diseased beast to pass attention and make it to market. Sale houses and slaughter houses are also understaffed when dealing with large shipments from corporate farms, they simply aren't able to assess the conditions of the cattle. This is the real problem. Mismanagement and poor record keeping, being the reason it's so difficult to actually track the origins of the outbreak. So, of course rather than mandating a better system of record keeping and prevention, we're going to implant chips into every cow in the US, at great cost to the agricultural sector (and to us) and hope, that it works, from the beginning, on a massive scale. Ludicrous.

    A simpler solution would be to hold the slaughter and salehouses, accountable for allowing a diseased animal to market. Hefty fines, would encourage understaffed operations, to hire and better train their employees. While at the same time contributing more funding to the Federal Governments various,efforts. Hell, maybe they'll even spend some of it on fixing the roads, but I doubt it...

  • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @07:15PM (#28536259) Homepage

    I got a good laugh at "They don't understand the vastness of" the postage stamps you guys call "cattle ranches" over there.
    Australia introduced NLIS a few years ago now, and it is going well. And we have cattle stations larger than Texas.

  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stryyker ( 573921 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @07:40PM (#28536547)
    It's hard to think of any industry that likes any increase in costs. They all fight it. Why don't they look to Australia? We already do similar. We have the largest cattle station in the world. It managed to adjust. Plenty of small operations too. They managed. It would be easier for all operators to swallow if some kind of levy is used across the industry. Then your only issue then is imports.
  • Re:Let it collapse (Score:3, Interesting)

    by allenw ( 33234 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:04PM (#28536779) Homepage Journal

    I'm curious to know how you define a 'corporate farm'. I really hope you don't think that every Xxxx Farms, Inc. is magically part of ADM.

  • Re:Sigh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @08:14PM (#28536861) Journal

    The article is wrong. Your supposed to scan them and report it before they leave your property. Under the law, if you sell a few head to your neighbor, you are required to scan and report it. If you take a bull to the neighbors for a little work, you have to report it.

    If the animal goes anywhere other then where the government thinks it is, you have to report it.

    Now you may think this is for tacking diseases, truth be told, the reason animals sit at feed lots is because they have to have a FDA regulated period of healthy time and if the farm isn't already FDA regulated, then the trip to the feed lots allow the monitoring required. This plan is more about the entire barter system and taxation in which small farmers trade stud services for fence mending on shared properties and so on. That is unless you take the animals to a non-FDA inspected processing facility. They want all of that recorded as income now do you can be taxed on it. The entire process does pose some serious technical issues too, My neighbor doesn't even know how to use a computer and has over 1000 head, I have roughly 35- soon to be 40. Swine is tracked also, for much of the same reasons.

    Here is the funny part, there are already numbered tags on the animals which can be used to track them. There is no need for this program. The monitoring in the healthy period regulation can show when sick animals arrive. If that isn't working, then a RFID tag isn't going to fix it. This is nothing more then wanting to know exactly where the animals go so they can tax potential revenue sources even when the revenue is a bale of hay.

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

    by OpenGLFan ( 56206 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:02PM (#28537197) Homepage

    I grew up on a small cattle farm, so I know what I'm talking about. You absolutely have to sterilize young bulls, or they'll challenge the older bulls, and you'll wind up with a bloody bullpen instead of a lot of happy, complaining cows. So that's 50% of each year's herd you have to spend at least 15 seconds of...intensely personal time with anyway.

    Secondly, cows aren't cats, but if one person is herding a small group of cattle then he's doing it through a chute or with a small bucket of feed. Again, this is completely not a problem.

    Small cattle ranches obey Sturgeon's Law exactly like any other small groups. They whiners are just complaining because they aren't going to be able to hide downer cows or sell the sick ones before anybody notices. (Which, by the way, is one reason we raised our own, until my brother and I went to college and there was no more farm help.)

    If I were still on my parents' farm, I'd welcome this move 100%, even restricted to the 28.8Kbps modem my parents still use.

  • Re:Pfft (Score:4, Interesting)

    by twostix ( 1277166 ) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @11:43PM (#28538343)

    (Speaking as someone who comes from a long line of Australian farmers, has two dozen blood relatives on farms and knows pepole in every aspect of food don't know much).

    My uncle who had 500 head of free roaming grass fed Herefords on 2000 acres (Beef, Grain and Sheep) out in the Riverina sold all of his cattle rather than take on the extra burden of paperwork, large amount of labour and cost associated with complying with the NLIS.

    He sold them to a feedlot that's part owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation.

    He was not alone in his district.

    A) You're wrong they didn't *get over it* it's hurting people who aren't in a position to just sell a huge part of their operation at a loss.
    B) Feedlots loved the regulation as it's far easier to tag 500 head crammed into a few large sheds than 500 head wandering around 2000 acres. They know that and enjoy the benefit of not being burdened by that.
    C) Given that you work in one of the largest meatoworks in Australia WTF would you know about small farmers?

    Enjoy your disease ridden, growth hormone, antibiotic flooded feedlot "meat product".

  • by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @08:02AM (#28540659)

    Not only does the Fed consider Intrastate commerce as affecting interstate commerce, they also believe production of goods for yourself also affects interstate commerce.

    In Wickard vs Filburn, a 1942 SCOTUS case, which must be considered with the Great Depression in mind.

    One of the New Deal programs was an act that limited the number of acres a farmer could devote to any one crop in order to regulate the prices of wheat so that they didn't swing so much.

    Mr. Filburn had grown more than the amount of wheat permitted for private usage on his own farm. The wheat never entered any trades, let alone interstate trades, so that excess wheat was not to be covered by the law.

    What's nice is that the Federal District Court that the case came up under ruled unanimously in Filburn's favor. What sickens me is that SCOTUS was 9-0 in overturning the District Court.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson