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Minnesota cattlemen want NAIS scrapped, government intrusion ended

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. -- Minnesota cattle producers are bristling at the idea of the U.S. Department or Agriculture imposing the National Animal Identification System on the livestock industry and of further government intrusion in their business.

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. -- Minnesota cattle producers are bristling at the idea of the U.S. Department or Agriculture imposing the National Animal Identification System on the livestock industry and of further government intrusion in their business.

"The biggest solution in agriculture is to get the government out of it," says cattle producer Jerry Enderline of Fergus Falls, Minn. "Out of the grain business, out of the livestock business -- completely out."

Enderline is a strong supporter of free trade and says he hasn't been able to make a profit feeding cattle for 10 months. He says he resents government intrusion into his industry and the fact that he does not have the final word on some issues regarding is own operations.

Privacy issues

Should it be instituted, NAIS would require every cattle producer to pay a registration fee and affix a 15-digit identifier on every animal, revealing the location of the farming or ranching operation that raises them and sells them to feedlots. The information is termed "premises registration" by USDA, which says the primary purpose is to implement an animal tracking system in the event of an outbreak of disease.

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But industry sources claim the records now maintained by the various types of livestock operations have proven sufficient in providing a history of the animal's owners and herd mates. Further, some say the NAIS premises registration is not only an invasion of privacy but will provide an unfair advantage to meat packers over cattle producers.

R-CALF USA Region V director Stayton Weldon says premises registration would grant the four largest meatpackers in the U.S. access to proprietary information on the thousands of U.S. cattle feeders and auction yards. That information, held by one segment of a competitive industry can be used, in a worst-case scenario, to "eliminate competitors," he says.

"Nowhere in the U.S. economy is proprietary information more important to ensuring competitiveness than in the multi-segmented live cattle industry and beef industry," he says in a press release recently published on the R-CALF USA Web site.

He says the 15-digit identifier would reduce, if not eliminate, competition in the U.S. cattle and beef industries.

Deaf ear?

USDA has been sponsoring listening sessions on the subject of NAIS to gain input from the public. But R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard says these sessions are designed to hear suggestions for improving the identification system, rather than outright objections to implementation of the system.

"If USDA is allowed to frame the debate to that of focusing only on how to fix NAIS, then our ability to stop NAIS in its tracks is weakened," he says.

Bullard goes on to say that once NAIS is "scrapped completely," then U.S. livestock producers will be prepared to work with USDA to develop an overall strategy for prevention, control and eradication of livestock disease and to develop separate strategies to improve the safety of meat.

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The comments made at the sale barn in Fergus Falls -- unanimously against NAIS -- seem to support a longstanding tradition of individualism within the cattle industry. Even cattle haulers -- including driver Craig Elfering of Long Prairie, Minn. -- are skeptical of outside influence.

Elfering sums up his feelings this way: "The government's just always looking for another way to make a buck."

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