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Totalitarianism Through the Back Door

A national ID system for animals may come on us the same way it did for humans.

by James Leroy Wilson
March 30, 2006

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Totalitarianism Through the Back Door
Imagine visiting a relative's farm, only to find your host asking for your ID and photocopying it. And filing a report when he takes you horseback riding. And having to go through individual tags of all the chickens when a fox steals one. Imagine having to fill out forms if this relative gives a pet goat to your children. Sound preposterous? Well, it may already be happening in a county near you. And if we don't stop it, this nonsense will be required throughout the nation. It's only a matter of time.
 
One year ago the REAL ID Act was added to a spending bill for war and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. It sailed through both houses of Congress – the vote in the Senate was unanimous.
 
Earlier this month, as part of Congress's renewal of the PATRIOT Act, a limit was placed on the amount of over-the-counter medicine people may buy per month. You see, included in the bill to renew the PATRIOT Act was some anti-methamphetamine measures, including limiting access to meth precursors, which are often found in cold medicines.
 
National uniformity of driver's licenses has nothing to do with funding our overseas wars. And empowering the government to prevent terrorism before it starts, which is the justification for the PATRIOT Act, has nothing to do with methamphetamine production. One would hope that the issues could be considered in separate bills, but that's not how Congress works. Congress attaches unrelated legislation into the same bill all the time. To get controversial measures passed, they are grouped together with popular pieces of legislation into one mega-bill. Then members of Congress could defend their affirmative votes: "Gee, I didn't like that one part of the bill, but on the whole the bill was urgently needed so I supported it." This lets them off the hook even as bad legislation is inflicted on the American people.
 
Legislation like REAL ID is not drawn up overnight. Some people had been pushing a national ID card – an internal passport you will be required to show to go anywhere or do anything – for years. The bill as it stands places enormous compliance costs on the states, for which they will receive no compensation. REAL ID might have been a close call if it was placed before Congress as its own bill. So instead, it was included in a larger bill so that a Congressman who voted against it would also be voting against "supporting the troops." Likewise, the anti-meth laws were added to the PATRIOT Act renewal because there was no other way they were getting through Congress. Congressmen did not want to appear "soft on terrorism" just because they thought it ridiculous that the federal government will start monitoring stashes of cold medicine.
 
I've long been critical of our wars and of the PATRIOT Act. Even had the bills mentioned above not included the national ID and anti-cold medicine provisions, they still should have been rejected. But these tacked-on provisions made bad bills that much worse. It's as if totalitarianism came in through the back door.
 
And I fear it could happen again. Even as I write, bureaucratic planners in the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) are implementing a National Animal Identification System (NAIS). As of today it is ostensibly voluntary, though in some states it is already mandatory, and others are considering it. Formally, NAIS is a "State-Federal-industry partnership to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species and poultry." In other words, the infrastructure for NAIS is being set up now. Once set up, it will become mandatory. The USDA assumes that it and it alone can decide to make it mandatory. My guess, however, is that such an action would be too politically charged, and that it would require an act of Congress to be made mandatory. But I suspect this will be easily done, by attaching NAIS to another bill. If REAL ID for humans comes to us this way, why not REAL ID for goats?
 
What is the rationale for NAIS? Supposedly, it is to trace back diseased animals to their source, within 48 hours of discovery of the disease. This sounds like it will protect the public, but the real reason is expressed quite well at RedState.org: "NAIS was developed to give the large meat exporters more markets to countries like Japan who are demanding trace-back on meat they import, specifically cattle."
 
NAIS is a classic case of corporate welfare. After all, if foreign (or domestic) markets want reliable trace-back, agri-business can supply that on their own, and do not require the government's help. Nor would it have to apply to those who sell only in local, or raise animals only for personal pleasure or consumption. What doesn't make sense, as RedState.org points out, is that NAIS would apply to "all livestock at all farms, homesteads and even for livestock kept as pets. [italics added]"
 
Here's the worst of it: the big producers get to tag their livestock by the lot, while farmers who keep smaller numbers of animals will have to track and report the movements of each individual animal. This is costly in time and many, and will drive many smaller farmers out of business.
 
One may wonder what the purpose is. The answer is that this is what government does. Government is essentially a predator of the small businessman, including the small farmer. Profit margins are usually quite small for them, and every additional tax, form, and regulation they must comply with eats more and more into those margins. Corporations, on the other hand, already have lawyers, accountants, and human resource staff to handle compliance issues. Compliance costs are proportionally much smaller for them.
 
While government regulations are already unfair for small business, rarely is the deck so stacked against the "little guy" as it is with NAIS. NAIS creates more burdens – not just proportionally but in real terms – on the small farmer even as it eases the cost of doing business of the big farms who export to foreign markets. As small farmers go out of business, who will take over their farms? That's right, the big corporate farms. And perhaps real estate developers, if they are near suburban areas.
 
The good news is, the mandatory NAIS is not yet here. But it could be just around the corner. Like REAL ID, we may scratch our head in wonder when it's suddenly the law of the land. The more people become aware of it now, the better chance we have of stopping it.

Comments (1)


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Scott Haley from Sedro-Woolley, WA writes:
May 13, 2006
May I see your papers please? (Coming soon to the U.S.)

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