Friday, September 15, 2006

Animal ID and Tracking Program Gets Puff Press, But Also Opposition

The National Animal Identification System, NAIS, is getting some very favorable press from the establishment media. Yet opposition to the plan from farmers and ranchers who don't want the feds to have 24/7 access to their land and records is growing. Yesterday the State Comptroller of neighboring Texas, Carole Strayhorn, came out in favor of scrapping the program in Texas. Strayhorn is an independent candidate for Governor. The program would tag and track the movement of all animals on a farm, probably using RFID tags and mounds of record keeping.

I meant to write about this before the details got hazy, but I remember that last week there was a one-sided article explaining all about how great this program was. For now, it is a "voluntary" program administered by the states. Unless we stop it, it is going to be about as "voluntary" as a Social Security Number in a few years.

The article talked about how the program was needed to fight disease, and that cattle with the trackng tags sold for 4-6 dollars more per hundred weight than those without. It also said the tags cost about $3.50, implying that this was the cost of the program.

All of that is highly misleading. The cattle with the tags were from well-known opperations who have top-notch stock. They were likely to sell for more than the other cows regardless of whether they participated in the program or not. It is highly misleading for the paper to suggest that sticking this tag in a scrawny cow's ear is going to increase it's value. It is also misleading for the paper to imply that the $3.50 tag is the whole cost of the program. Someone has to pay for the buearecrats that the ranchers must now report to. It is going to be either us or them. There are time costs associated with keeping records on all of the animal's movements and medical treatments. Someone has to pay for the computers that this information is fed into.

If the feds really plan to leave this program "voluntary", and it really does make ranchers money, we have a name for that- it is called a "Free Market Incentive". When there really is a "Free Market Incentive" to do something, the Free Market does it without a government program. So if all that is true, why not let a private company get in the animal tracking business- a service to which ranchers freely subscribe because it magically makes their beef worth more? So why is it not being done? The reason is simple, they don't intend to leave this a voluntary plan and a true accounting of the costs are going to show that it is more trouble than it is worth. But it will give big producers a competitive advantage over independent operators, and that is why the big boys are pushing it.


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