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When in the Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan portrayed agribusiness' unhealthy treatment of livestock animals, some readers suddenly lost their appetite for meat, going vegan overnight.

But others found "the sane food loophole:" Organic, pasture-raised meat and dairy-- the protein complement to the fruits and vegetables First Lady Michelle Obama championed last week.

Livestock farmed in organic, sustainable, and small farm settings, are healthier, and safer from the myriad infections, wounds, and diseases common in agribusiness livestock. That's why many doctors recommend eating organic or locally raised, hormone and pesticide-free meat and dairy.

In contrast, pumped full of hormones and pesticides, herded into cramped and disease-ridden factory farms, and fattened on corn and animal byproducts, (unknown in animal diets before corporations dictated the menu) factory farm animals aren't healthy--and some doctors claim that their consumption may detract from human health via antibiotic resistance, pesticide toxicity, weight gain, endocrine disruption, and other factors.

So it's ironic that--in the name of safety, the FDA today moves to close the sane food loophole, while failing to address farming practices unsafe for animals and their human consumers.

The FDA plan, called the National Animal Identification System, or NAIS will require the costly insertion of microchips into all livestock to record and track their antibiotic use, medical history, and location via a global GPS system.

The compliance costs for NAIS could imbalance the careful economics of small, organic, and sustainable farms, driving many into bankruptcy. Unlike your local farmer, assembly line factory farms can easily install microchips. They support the NAIS plan, which conveniently undermines the competition (organic food suppliers are now the fastest growing food segment) while setting the mass producers up for global exports to foreign buyers.

Just like fifty years ago, when no one spoke the scary word, cancer, when you talk about beef safety, you can't mention Mad Cow Disease.

Mad Cow Disease is what NAIS is really about.

Unlike the U.S., Europe and Japan routinely test animals, while also prohibiting the use in feed of animal waste products, which studies show increase the likelihood of BSE, the bovine version of Mad Cow Disease. But despite a reported 4.2 million cattle who die annually in the U.S. from unknown causes, US agencies prohibit, rather than require testing. With the NAIS, they instead propose a costly technology to track animals. Does tracking--without testing-- confer food safety? Only in Cargill's dreams.

Without testing, chipping every animal is like installing multiple television cameras in every nook and cranny of your home to record the moment when you collapse from unknown causes so that you can be promptly removed to the funeral home.

Without determining the actual cause of death of the 4.2 million downed animals, and without mentioning BSE, the NAIS will monitor anyone owning a single cow, horse or chicken for personal use. When Fritzie goes to the State Fair, Big Brother will know. NAIS will make a killing for the microchip company, VeriChip Corps, while taxpayers pay for a giant bureaucracy that tracks all those chipped animals.

The groundwork for NAIS was initially green-lighted at the FDA under former HHS secretary Tommy Thompson, who left his post two weeks later, eventually joining the board of VeriChip Corps, from gave him cash and stock options.

While we've lost count on the Bush administration's malfeasances, it's unclear why the current administration would erect a new infrastructure that undermines small, suppliers of healthy foods, in order to enable large suppliers in perpetuating health risks.

If the worry is that downer cows will lead to a downturn in sales, then deal with the causes rather than deodorizing with microchips.

With record obesity rates and skyrocketing health care costs, many doctors critique our health care model for its failure to address the root causes of ill health. Healthy food--and the healthy agriculture which produces it, are considered crucial for both health creation and the economy.

Yet in this turnkey moment, facing the challenge of covering health costs and converting failing, but entrenched, health infrastructures, the FDA decides to build a new infrastructure that overlooks and perpetuates the root causes of disease in animals. Ignoring the causes of disease hasn't worked for humans and it won't work for livestock animals.

Moreover, the microchip has side effects, with carcinogenic risks to the chip-wearing animals, shown by several animal studies.

Monday, March 16th is the last day the FDA will accept comments on the NAIS plan. To comment and contact your Congress people, go here: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/642/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=26665

For health news, insight, and action, please sign up for the Health Outlook at: www.health-journalist.com

 
 
 

Follow Alison Rose Levy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AlisonRoseLevy