Billings, Mont. – Western Ag Reporter Editor, Linda Grosskopf, in the April 23, 2009, edition, published a headline that reads, “NAIS...Has R-CALF had a change of mind? If so, what about their policy?” With this headline, Grosskopf publicly – and incorrectly – raises the specter that because R-CALF USA supports the expansion of the preexisting brucellosis-type identification system to identify breeding cattle in commerce, the organization has reversed its strong opposition to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and has violated its member-established policy.
“This allegation is demonstrably false and is a blatant attempt by the Western Ag Reporter to undermine and discredit R-CALF USA and its members,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry. “Western Ag Reporter’s latest attempt to discredit this organization is a tremendous disservice to our members and demonstrates a complete lack of journalistic ethics.
“The Western Ag Reporter made no effort to contact R-CALF USA before it issued its unprovoked public attack and it chose to selectively publish only one of R-CALF USA’s nine separate policies that address animal identification and NAIS,” he pointed out. “Also, it unethically rearranged and manipulated the article written by Steve Bjerklie, published April 17 at http://www.meatpoultry.com, to deceptively fabricate and then exaggerate its erroneous claim that R-CALF USA’s position was not grounded in member-established policy. This action is an irresponsible and dishonest attempt to further the interests of pro-NAIS agribusinesses and to undercut the interests of hard-working U.S. cattle producers.”
R-CALF USA is nationally recognized as the most formidable opponent to the NAIS and is the only organization in complete opposition to the program that has been called on by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, and called on by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to provide both oral and written testimony to express its members’ views.
“The Western Ag Reporter’s attack on R-CALF USA plays right into the hands of USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and its NAIS supporters and could potentially weaken the credibility and momentum R-CALF USA has gained in our fight to defend the rights and privileges of independent cattle producers by stopping NAIS,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. “In addition, R-CALF USA is the only organization that, since 2006, has offered a complete alternative to NAIS as a means of enhancing our nation’s disease traceback capabilities without adopting the invasive NAIS program.”
In 2006, R-CALF USA’s board adopted interim policy to support a nationwide expansion of the preexisting brucellosis program-type identification system to enhance our nation’s disease traceback capabilities, which identifies breeding animals with a metal postal-code eartag that does not require premises registration or the report of animal movement.
Western Ag Reporter was made aware of this recommendation as early as December 2006 when R-CALF USA issued a news release announcing it had sent a letter to then-Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns urging him to adopt R-CALF USA’s proposal in lieu of pursuing NAIS.
Yet again, in May 2007, the Western Ag Reporter was informed that R-CALF USA’s membership had adopted the 2006 policy when the organization issued a news release titled “Members Approve Two Animal Health Resolutions.” And in June 2008, the Western Ag Reporter received the group’s news release titled “USDA Urged Yet Again to Reallocate from NAIS Budget Funds to Continue Brucellosis Vaccination, Surveillance.”
And, in March 2009, the Western Ag Reporter was apprised of R-CALF USA’s member-established policy in a news release titled “Promise for Change? Not for U.S. Livestock Producers when it comes to NAIS.”
In 2007, R-CALF USA members overwhelmingly voted to request that USDA use the brucellosis-type identification system currently being used on breeding stock to enhance animal disease traceback. R-CALF USA has advocated this alternative to NAIS for nearly three years in letters and formal comments submitted to USDA. Specifically, R-CALF USA member-established policy requests USDA to:
* [C]ontinue brucellosis testing, vaccination, and surveillance in states where such action already occurs, and to implement brucellosis surveillance in all other states where cattle are present but no formal testing program is in place, and to fund all such programs.
* Maintain a nationwide brucellosis surveillance/vaccination program, which would be a means to provide a proven method of animal identification for livestock disease traceback purposes, with minimal financial burden or recordkeeping burdens on independent U.S. livestock producers and related livestock marketing facilities.
*[Use]USDA funds presently appropriated for an animal identification program to be redirected to fund ongoing and existing brucellosis surveillance/vaccination programs.
R-CALF USA’s animal identification member-established policy passed in 2008 reiterates this animal health position:
R-CALF USA recommends that USDA-APHIS continue the funding of ear tags and systems pre-dating NAIS for federal disease control programs for livestock and an animal health traceback identification program, in conjunction with brand laws. All data would continue to be held by the states and APHIS, as it is currently. R-CALF USA opposes harmonization of these existing systems with, or the use of, these existing systems to implement or promote NAIS.
In addition, R-CALF USA perhaps has the strongest policy against NAIS of any organization, as it expressly opposes registration of private property as a premises and any requirement for producer participation in NAIS.
R-CALF USA’s 8-Point Plan clearly states that “R-CALF USA urges Congress and USDA to immediately and completely abandon the flawed National Animal Identification System,” that Congress and USDA should “focus on targeted solutions to the legitimate livestock disease-related challenges faced by U.S. livestock industries,” and, “Under no circumstances should the Federal government maintain a national registry of U.S. livestock or require the national registration of producers’ real property.” This plan would enhance disease traceability without infringing on the rights and privileges of independent U.S. cattle producers.
In its 8-Point Plan, R-CALF USA combined its member policies: on international trade to call for increased import restrictions to prevent disease introduction as well as permanent branding of all imported live cattle; on animal health to call for identification of breeding stock under a national brucellosis-type identification system, to require tuberculosis testing and quarantine of Mexican cattle, and to focus on disease eradication efforts in wildlife populations; on animal identification to call for a complete end to NAIS, including premises registration; on food safety to require that all imported cattle and beef meet identical – not equivalent – U.S. health and safety standards and to call for increased enforcement of food safety standards in U.S. slaughterhouses.
“There is nothing even remotely inconsistent with our members’ fierce opposition to NAIS and our strong support for an expanded brucellosis-type system to restore our once-high level of animal identification in our U.S. breeding herd,” Thornsberry pointed out. “In fact, NAIS would completely supplant the brucellosis-type program, eliminating the local veterinarian’s control over what contact information is needed to associate tagged animals with their owner, as well as eliminate the metal postal-code eartag.