adventures in craft beer and real food

Friday, March 03, 2006

Political commentary: why tagging isn't it

The Wisconsin State Journal printed an "our opinion" piece today entitled "Tag livestock to stop disease." The editors come out strongly in favor of proposals to require the tagging of livestock. Wisconsin has always been an exemplar of agriculture quality standards. It initiated the nation's first livestock identification system. Such systems require all farms that possess livestock (including hobby farms) to register with the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium. This registry helps the government in the event of outbreaks of diseases. The program has been adopted by many other agriculturally-minded states.

The next step, they say, is to tag individual animals. Such a tagging system would take the identification system to a new level of detail, by tracking livestock from birth to slaughter. If it were then known that the Jones' have a problem with BSE, this would help farmers demonstrate that their animals never were on the Jones' farm.

Yet there are significant problems with these ideas. Namely, the proponants of these measures are trying to cover a deep wound with band-aids. Neither program does anything to solve the fundamental causes of BSE, which is fundamentally linked to the practice of feeding animals the by-products of meat production. A cow infected with BSE will have all of its nerve tissue contaminated. So no part of the animal can be safely used. It cannot be destroyed with heat, radiation, or extended freezing. Yet animal parts are simply recycled back into the system of feeding more animals, thus spreading the disease.

Shutting down this grotesque industry of making low-cost feed from animal "left-overs" would be a good first step.

People who are nervous about the potential of consuming BSE-infected meat are turning to small-scale farms. Such farms are an essential alternative to mass-market meat suppliers in that they raise their animals in a responsible manner, without the use of hormones, antibiotics, and vegetarian feed. The animals are often slaughtered on site by highly skilled personnel, a far cry from the de-skilled meat packers that butcher the meat for supermarkets. The meat is sold at a price that allows the farmers to make a living, invest in their land, and pay their hands fair wages.

Yet the very proposal that the Wisconsin State Journal is touting could very well put at end to such farms. Yes, the initial participation would be voluntary. But the decision to register with the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Registry was once voluntary, too. And now it's become mandatory. Large scale farms can afford to "chip" their animals. Small scale farms, the ones who are standing up to all of this insanity, are inherently ill-equipped to bring their operations into compliance. The practical result is that many, many organic livestock operations would be forced to shut down.

And for what?

So a meat industry can continue selling us meat from carnivorous cows, pumped up with growth hormones and antibiotics, and kept indoors for their entire four year life? Meat that needs to be irradiated because slaughter house conditions are so unsanitary? And is virtually untraceable once it leaves the plant? And even if it is found to be contaminated with anything, be it E. coli H157:O7 or BSE, the government still has no legal ability to monitor the quality control testing or to issue a recall.

The State Journal tried to cast the debate in terms of the civil rights of the farmer versus the government. Whether such concerns are valid is up to lawyers to decide. However, it characteristically misses the point of the entire issue.

Tackle the real issues. Then let's talk.

1 comment:

xenobiologista said...

Ga. People are such idiots when it comes to money. My boss volunteered me to help with the necropsies of the 80 deer from the CWD-infected farm in January. Rumour among the DNR/USDA/academic folks who were there has it that 40 bucks that 'escaped' were actually sneaked out of state by the owner.