USC Title 7 chapter 55
The 2006 Agricultural Identification Survey and the
Mary Zanoni, Ph.D., J.D.
Canton, NY 13617
January 11, 2007
Like many small-farm advocates, I have been fielding questions over the past few weeks about
the above survey being sent out by the National Agricultural
Statistics Service (NASS). Many people ask if there is any
relationship between the survey and the data being collected (often without the knowledge or
consent of farmers) for the
National Animal Identification System (NAIS). As we shall see, although USDA personnel won’t admit it, NASS data is
the foundation of the USDA’s aggressive pursuit of NAIS.
To my great surprise, in this morning's mail I myself
received a 2006 Agricultural Identification Survey (2006 AIS). I say "to my great surprise," because I
am not and never
have been engaged in any type of commercial agriculture whatsoever. I have never before received any type of communication
The envelope states in very large letters, "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW." The envelope further states
that the due date is January 29, 2007. As
explained below, it is clear that many people receiving this form are not in
fact "REQUIRED BY LAW" to answer it. Further, a recipient has only a couple
of weeks between the receipt of the form and
the purported deadline, and it would be impossible for the average non-lawyer to do enough research within that
figure out whether he/she is or isn't actually required to respond.
The form itself begins with several general questions,
such as “Do you own or rent any land?” “Do you grow vegetables, hay or nursery stock?” “Do you
government payments?” The questions appear deliberately designed to imply that anyone who would answer “yes”
is among those “REQUIRED BY LAW” to fill out this form. The USDA is thus casting a very wide
net in this particular
intrusion into the lives of American citizens, because, frankly, just about everyone who is not homeless “owns or rents”
estate; some 75 million people in the United States “grow vegetables;” and some 60 million people receive
“government payments.” (See 2007 Statistical Abstract
of the United States, Table 1226 (vegetable gardening);
Table 528 (government transfer payments).
Now, perhaps it is possible that this “wide net” might not be
as intrusive as it appears. After all, maybe NASS has only sent this form to people reasonably assumed to be farmers. But
in fact it was distressingly easy to confirm that intrusiveness and deliberate over-inclusiveness are the hallmarks of the
approach. This morning, I called the information number listed on the form and spoke to a woman at the USDA’s Helena,
Montana call center. According to her, the call center is being swamped with calls from people who live in cities and have
nothing to do with agriculture. She stated that the call center employees really have no idea of why or how all these people
have been sent the 2006 AIS. When asked for some conjecture as to how so many unnecessary people
could have been included
in the mailings, the woman explained that, for example, anyone who had ever subscribed to a “horse magazine” might
included in the database.
Now, that raises interesting questions. How is the USDA/NASS getting the subscription lists of “horse magazines”?
Why and how are “horse magazines,” or,
for that matter, any rural-life publication, any breed association,
feed store, or private or public livestock or horticultural enterprise whatsoever, giving their member/subscriber/customer
lists to the government without telling their members, subscribers, or customers?
Or, worse yet, how is the government
accessing such lists or databases without the awareness of the businesses or organizations in question? During times
the Executive Branch of the United States Government has secretly gathered the records of most people’s incoming and
outgoing phone calls, and the President asserts a right to open your mail and my mail without a warrant, this is not a trivial
Returning to the first page of the form, we see the wide net growing ever wider. The form states: “Many
people who don’t consider themselves farmers or
ranchers actually meet the definition of a farm or ranch and are
important to agriculture.” “We need your completed form even though you may not be
actively farming, ranching,
or conducting any other type of agricultural activity.” Finally, the first page of the form reinforces the threat of
the “REQUIRED BY LAW” language of the envelope: “ ‘Response to this survey is legally required by
7, U.S. Code.’ ” (Emphasis in original.) (Note the single-double quotation marks – the threat actually is
in quotation marks, employing that common
tenth-grade stylistic conceit of “quoting” something to make it appear
extra-important.) One senses evasions aplenty here -- the form has referred to the
“definition of a farm or
ranch” but nowhere tells us that definition. It suggests that anyone receiving a form has a legal obligation to answer
it, even though
their enterprise may not meet the definition of a “farm.”
Given the foregoing ambiguities,
I had further questions about the definition of a “farm” and the possible legal penalties for not responding to
the 2006 AIS. Specifically, I asked if my understanding of the definition of “farm” as an operation with at least
$1000 in sales from agriculture was correct.
(See 2002 Census of Agriculture, FAQs, www.nass.usda.gov/census_of_agriculture/frequently_asked_questions/index.asp#1.) Further, having found the penalty listed in 7 USC § 2204g (d) (2), namely, that a “person . . . who refuses or willfully
neglects to answer a question . . . . shall be fined not more than $100,” I noted that, insofar as the 2006 AIS actually
contains 42 separate questions, it could be important to know whether there was a separate $100 fine for each unanswered question,
or just a single $100 fine for not answering the entire 2006 AIS. These questions were beyond the purview of the call-center
woman, so she made a note of the questions, referred them to a member of the NASS professional staff, and promised that the
NASS staff member would call me with the answers.
The next day, January 12, 2007, I received a call from Jody Sprague,
a NASS statistician. First we addressed the question of the “farm” definition. Ms.
Sprague conceded that someone
whose property or operation did not meet the “farm” definition would have no obligation to answer the 2006 AIS.
conceded that the basic definition of a “farm” as an operation with at least $1000 in agricultural
sales was correct, but explained that in addition to the gross sales figures, NASS also assigns certain “point values”
for particular agricultural activities. If the points add up to 1000, your operation would meet the definition of a “farm.”
When asked for an example of how the point values work, Ms. Sprague explained that 5 equines would equal a farm but 4 would
not. (Subsequently, she explained that each equine equals 200 points.) When asked how many cattle equal a “farm,”
Ms. Sprague said she did not know. At one point Ms. Sprague said that NASS wanted, through the 2006 AIS, to determine if they
could delete people who should not be on their mailing list. But for the most part she contended the opposite, e.g., that
she would “advise” anyone who had received the form to fill it out; and that even a person with one horse should
complete the questionnaire, although she previously had conceded that someone with fewer than 5 horses would not meet the
definition of a “farm” and therefore would not be required to fill out the survey.
We next turned to the
issue of how NASS may have compiled its mailing list for the 2006 AIS. First Ms. Sprague maintained that the sources of the
mailing list are “confidential.” I noted the call-center woman’s reference to a subscription to
a “horse magazine” as a source of names, and asked for some other possible sources. Ms. Sprague said that growers’
associations, such as the Wheat Growers’ Association and Barley Growers’ Association, were examples of sources.
I asked for more examples but she was reluctant to give any, claiming that some are “confidential” and some are
“not confidential.” She
explained the overall process of list building thus: as NASS comes across lists
where there are “possibilities of agricultural activity,” NASS incorporates those names into its mailing list.
returned to the subject of “point values” for different livestock. Explaining that many people were likely to
have questions about this, I asked if Ms. Sprague could find out for me the point values of cattle or other non-equine livestock.
She put me on hold for a long while. Subsequently, she gave me the following point values: beef cattle, 310 points per head;
dairy cattle, 2000 points per head; goats and sheep, 50 points per head. (I wanted to ask about chickens, but I was getting
the distinct sense that I might be pushing my luck.) Ms. Sprague stressed that she did not want people to be concentrating
on the point values. For example,
she noted that people should not say they have 4 horses if they really have 5 horses,
“because it wouldn’t be ethical.” (But apparently under the NASS
moral code, rummaging through some of
those Choicepoint-type consumer profiles to track your reading habits is perfectly “ethical.” And, as we
shall see, the NASS moral code also permits forking over your data to states that are in hot pursuit of the NAIS premises-registration
quotas imposed as a condition for the states’ continued receipt of federal NAIS grant money.)
We went on to
the question of the $100 non-compliance fine. Ms. Sprague assured me that a farmer’s failure to answer any or all of
the 42 total questions on the 2006 AIS would only result in a single $100 fine. She also said that the fine is “rarely
enforced” and that if any “producer” “chooses” not to report, no one from NASS would seek them
out. Finally, I asked Ms. Sprague if there were any
relationships between NASS and the APHIS NAIS program, and she
said, “Absolutely none.” I asked her if any other agency, state or federal, would ever be allowed to use NASS’s
database to solicit premises IDs for NAIS, and she said, “Absolutely not.” And indeed, pursuant to 7 U.S.C. §
2204g (f) (3), “Information
obtained [for NASS surveys] may not be used for any purpose other than the statistical
purposes for which the information is supplied.”
Several weeks ago, Missouri antiNAIS activist Doreen Hannes sent a series of questions about Missouri’s solicitation
of NAIS premises IDs to Steve Goff, DVM,
the Animal ID Administrator of the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA). Dr.
Goff provided written answers on December 20, 2006. When asked where the
MDA had obtained addresses for its solicitation
of NAIS premises IDs, Dr. Goff stated: “the mailing was done through a contract with the USDA National
I won’t answer my 2006 Agricultural Information Survey. Instead, I will send a copy
of this article to my Congressman and my two United States Senators.
I will ask them to have the House and Senate Agriculture
Committees investigate the rampant and shameful abuses of federal law and common morality inherent in NASS’s compilation
of its mailing lists and use of those lists to promote the APHIS National Animal Identification System. Why will I do this?
Because I don’t live by the USDA’s false code of ethics; I answer to a higher authority.
We trade real
labor for fake money to pay fraudulent taxes on stuff we don't own. How did it happen? The bible says, "My people perish for
a lack of knowledge." Learn the truth at the following sites:
Aaron Russo documentary Freedom to
Fascism, watch it here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4312730277175242198