Posted by: jackslife | March 12, 2009

The High Cost of Cheap Food

Rod Dreher has a good post about the National Animal Identification System and the effects that yet another regulation on agriculture will have on small farms.  If the government set out to architect a way to destroy small farms, they probably couldn’t do a much better job than they are now.  This quote from Shannon Hayes, a small farmer, sums up the problem perfectly –

For my family, the upshot would be more expenses and a lot more time swearing at the computer. The burden would be even worse for rural families that don’t farm full-time, but make ends meet by keeping a flock of chickens or a cow for milk. The cost of participating in the system would make backyard farming prohibitively expensive.

So who would gain if the identification system eventually becomes mandatory, as the Agriculture Department has hoped? It would help exporters by soothing the fears of foreign consumers who have shunned American beef. Other beneficiaries would include manufacturers of animal tracking systems that stand to garner hefty profits for tracking the hundreds of millions of this country’s farm animals. It would also give industrial agriculture a stamp of approval despite its use of antibiotics, confinement and unnatural feeding practices that increase the threat of disease.

At the same time, the system would hurt small pasture-based livestock farms like my family’s, even though our grazing practices and natural farming methods help thwart the spread of illnesses. And when small farms are full participants in a local food system, tracking a diseased animal doesn’t require an exorbitantly expensive national database.

Cheaper and more effective than an identification system would be a nationwide effort to train farmers and veterinarians about proper management, bio-security practices and disease recognition. But best of all would be prevention. To heighten our food security, we should limit industrial agriculture and stimulate the growth of small farms and backyard food production around the country.

Here she talks about the cost associated with this endeavor –

These ID chips are estimated to cost $1.50 to $3 each, depending on the quantity purchased. A rudimentary machine to read the tags may be $100 to $200. It is expected that most reporting would have to be done online (requiring monthly Internet fees), then there would be the fee for the database subscription; together that would cost about $500 to $1,000 (conservatively) per year per premise. I estimate the combined cost for our farm at $10,000 annually — that’s 10 percent of our gross receipts.

The real travesty here is that all of these measures are being forced on small farmers, who aren’t even generally the ones causing the problems.  The environments that create most of the problems that this and other similar bills don’t even exist on small farms.  So, not only are those least able to shoulder the burden the ones who suffer most from it, but it’s for sins commited by the bigger businesses.  Does that sound familiar from any other stories we are hearing these days?

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