Commission delays vote on animal tracking
Outpouring of opposition came from large, angry crowd
By Claire Osborn
Friday, February 17, 2006
They yelled, they cursed and they cried, and in the end, the people who testified Thursday persuaded state commission members to delay a requirement that livestock owners register their animals with the government.
The Texas Animal Health Commission, acting on a bill passed by the Legislature, was going to require livestock owners to register their "premises," a rule that would include listing the kinds of animals they have, though not the number.
'I will not comply,' farmer Nancy Falster told the Texas Animal Health Commission, saying she should not have to register her animals so that the government can track them.
The proposal is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan to tag animals so they can be tracked to prevent the rapid spread of disease. The plan is called the National Animal Identification System.
The commission was going to require livestock owners to pay a $20 registration fee every two years beginning July 1, with penalties including a fine up to $1,000 for noncompliance. People who own only one animal — including a chicken, a horse, a cow, a goat or a pig — would be required to register.
The commission delayed the decision until its next meeting May 4.
"I'll tell you this; I'm really not for this thing," said Jerry Windham, a member of the commission. "I just want to see us delay this decision. . . . I may get fired from this job for saying this," he said.
Dozens of people, including Nancy Falster of Wood County, who raises miniature Herefords, spoke to the commission Thursday at a public hearing that lasted about four hours.
Falster, who dressed in prison stripes to protest the plan, said registration would violate her private property rights.
"I will not comply," she said.
A few representatives of industry groups, including the Texas Farm Bureau, testified they supported the registration.
Many people said the registration fee would be an unfair tax. They worried that the tax would go up and put small livestock owners out of business.
"Texas does not need Big Brother watching over us; this is America, not Soviet Russia," said Kim Alexander, a Garfield farmer. He added that he just wanted to be left alone to raise his own animals.
Chicken owner John Dromgoole, who owns the Natural Gardener Nursery in Austin and hosts a long-running radio show about organic gardening, yelled at commission members that they were taking away his liberty, getting a standing ovation from a few members of the audience.
People also testified that they had not been aware of the plan until recently. A spokesman for the Texas Thoroughbred Association said half his members didn't even have e-mail.
The Texas Animal Health Commission would not require people to individually tag their animals yet, said Bob Hillman, the executive director of the commission.
The tags that have been discussed include radio frequency ear tags for cattle, implants for horses and leg bands and ear notches for smaller animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not have plans yet for how different kinds of animals would be marked, Hillman said.
Tagging of all livestock may not become mandatory until 2009, he said.
Hillman added that people who complained that those who owned small numbers of livestock were not responsible for the spread of animal diseases were wrong. Three of the five cases in Texas of brucellosis, a bacterial infection that cows carry, came from herds of fewer than 30 cattle, he said.
The one case of mad cow disease in Texas, which happened last year, also did not come from a large herd, Hillman said. So far people have registered 7,000 premises voluntarily out of an estimated 200,000 livestock owners in Texas, he said.
People may send their comments to the animal commission at firstname.lastname@example.org.