One of the sad realizations I’ve come to over the last few years in writing about raw milk is that proponents can’t let their guards down in battling with government officials.

Farmers and consumers alike want so badly to believe that public officials are decent, reasonable, and benevolent, and I have no doubt that some are. But if you look at what’s happened in Wisconsin—and it’s not an isolated example—the relationship between the regulators and the people being regulated is totally adversarial. The regulators are cold, hard-edged battlers who see the people as an enemy, to be beaten into submission. Any pulling back by the people is interpreted as weakness, an opening to be exploited. 

Formal and informal understandings are made to be broken.  Farmers in Wisconsin who had worked out arrangements for herdshare agreements some years ago have seen those arrangements arbitrarily ended. The same thing happened in Georgia last October when officials confiscated milk from a buying club after five years of allowing the club to operate. A similar scenario for buying groups is unfolding in Massachusetts.

I raise this point because now we are being told that the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is dead. But is it?

When you read the press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you have to wonder. It doesn’t say NAIS is dead, or being abandoned. Rather, the first sentence of the announcement states “that USDA will develop a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the United States, and undertake several other actions to further strengthen its disease prevention and response capabilities.”

The release goes on to quote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as saying: “I’ve decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal disease traceability with changes that respond directly to the feedback we heard.”

In fact, nowhere in the release is there any vocabulary approximating such notions as “abandoning” or “discarding” or “pulling back from” or “starting anew” or anything else that might be taken as a recognition that NAIS was a bad joke.

The closest USDA officials come to saying NAIS was ill-advised is in a separate question-and-answer document that reports on “a listening tour” last fall conducted by USDA. “Some people were in favor of NAIS, but the vast majority of participants were highly critical of the program. Some of the concerns and criticisms raised included confidentiality, liability, cost, privacy, and religion. There were also concerns about NAIS being the wrong priority for USDA, that the system benefits only large-scale producers, and that NAIS is unnecessary because existing animal identification systems are sufficient.”

Who gets the blame for these criticisms? Why, the previous president, of course. “Under the previous Administration, USDA tried to implement NAIS. USDA spent more than $120 million, but only 36 percent of producers participated. It is no secret that there are concerns about and opposition to NAIS.”

So the solution appears to be to gain more participation moving forward, not to start fresh and examine how we best deal with the problem of fast-spreading animal diseases. “The benefit of Secretary Vilsack’s decision to move forward with a new approach to animal disease traceability is that USDA will not be creating the framework alone. USDA will partner with States and Tribal Nations to create the framework for the new approach.”

Like Lykke in her comment following my previous post, Vilsack has already decided on both the problem (animal disease outbreaks) and the solution (traceability)—the “new approach” has to do with implementation.

Many NAIS opponents are so relieved at the apparent pullback that they see a huge victory. It’s gotten so that the best we can hope for from mass opposition to a government initiative is delay in its implementation, not a commitment to examine underlying challenges and issues.

In such an atmosphere, questions and issues of the sort Tim Wightman raises in his comment following the previous post—about soil and animal health– never get addressed. 

I guess what I find frustrating is that the underlying issues aren’t even acknowledged, and we’re expected to go along with the agenda set out by the bright minds at USDA and DATCP. I think Wayne Craig is likely correct that much of the NAIS situation, like much of the so-called “food safety” legislation ready to be enacted by Congress, is being driven by global marketing considerations. If American agribusiness is going to be “competitive,” it must be able to guarantee compliance with international agricultural standards. The rest of us are expected to go along for the ride.


What to make of the ongoing battle between the Weston A. Price Foundation and Whole Foods over the benefits of a vegetarian diet? Actually, it’s more a protest effort by the Weston A. Price Foundation, objecting to Whole Foods’ emphasis on the low-fat vegetarian-oriented diet, at the expense of WAPF’s animal/dairy-based approach.

Now, in a press release, the Weston A. Price Foundation is advising its members to avoid shopping at Whole Foods stores. (The release hasn’t yet been posted to the foundation’s web site.)

I’d have more of a problem if Whole Foods stopped selling meat and dairy products, but I’ve seen no sign it will. In fact, it was early to the game of restricting itself to meat products free of antibiotics. And in some of its stores, it sells grass-fed meat; moreover, in Pennsylvania and California, it sells raw milk products.

The real problem comes in trying to fight the battle over which type of diet is healthier. The Weston A. Price Foundation’s press release quotes a member who became ill with a vegetarian diet, and recovered her health with the Weston A. Price approach.

In my experience, diet is a personal matter. I know people who thrive on a vegetarian diet. And I know people who thrive on the Weston A. Price approach. I personally draw on both approaches. I sense it’s all a matter of body type, metabolism, genetics, and other factors we don’t fully understand.

The matter definitely won’t be settled by arguing that one diet is “better” than another. ?