Wendell Berry Picks Jail Over NAIS

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) listening sessions taking place across the country came to Kentucky last month. Wendell Berry, the agrarian poet and small farm activist, was there.

Story after story from these listening sessions has confirmed one thing: small farmers across the country are 100% opposed to the NAIS legislation. As you probably already know, NAIS promises to require every single livestock animal in America to be identified and tagged — no matter the size of the operation. So, you’ve got a few backyard chickens? Some milking goats? A small free-range pig farm? Say hello to expensive tagging & government paperwork. Not only will NAIS be so burdensome as to put many small scale farmers out of business, but it is a huge infringement on our liberties.

Thankfully, Wendell Berry is a passionate man, well versed in civil disobedience.

Listen to this crowd cheer him on as he gave his comments.

Read the text of his testimony:

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry – which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail”.

This is the first agricultural meeting I’ve ever been to in my life that was attended by the police. I asked one of them why he was there and he said: “Rural Kentucky”. So thank you for your vote of confidence in the people you are supposed to be representing. (applause) I think the rural people of Kentucky are as civilized as anybody else.

But the police are here prematurely. If you impose this program on the small farmers, who are already overburdened, you’re going to have to send the police for me. I’m 75 years old. I’ve about completed my responsibilities to my family. I’ll lose very little in going to jail in opposition to your program – and I’ll have to do it. Because I will be, in every way that I can conceive of, a non-cooperator.

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country. Thank you very much. (applause, cheers)

Did you catch that? Wendell Berry will go to jail if NAIS becomes law!

Fellow Food Renegades, it\’s time to join Wendell Berry in fighting back. If you haven’t done so already, visit NoNAIS.org and find out what you can do to help! There are many different ways to get involved in this fight, the least of which is becoming a thorn in your congressperson’s side.

I owe a special thanks to Kim Hartke at Hartke is Online for bringing Wendell Berry’s comments to my attention.

This post is part of today’s Fight Back Fridays blog carnival, hosted right here at Food Renegade. For more news, anecdotes, recipes, and tips related to finding, growing, cooking, and eating Real Food, go check it out!

(photo by geoffandsherry)


  1. leo says

    Whoop! Wendell is great. I hope his RAW guts inspires more and more people to stand up against the tyranny of our government and its food fascism!

  2. says

    Leo — I agree that Wendell Berry is great. Definitely another one of my heroes, although I find the word “tyranny” a bit loaded for my tastes. I would say that NAIS is definitely government overreaching its bounds, as it is so biased against small-scale producers as to be laughable.

    If I thought it would actually improve food safety, that’d be one thing. But the truth is that NAIS is simply a burdensome tracking system for AFTER the food born illness spreads. NAIS makes sense for large-scale farms moving tens of thousands of heads of cattle, but for a small producer serving a local, limited market, the law makes no sense at all since that kind of direct farm to consumer channel is easily traceable.

  3. says

    This is really good to hear. A lot of farmers have said they will not participate in NAIS, that they will resist. Some farmers are already doing so in states like Wisconsin that have implemented mandatory NAIS already. I hope that consumers will join farmers in resisting. Buy a chicken. Flaunt it. Do not bow to the system. Everyone can participate in this bit of civil disobedience.


    Sugar Mountain Farm
    in the mountains of Vermont

  4. says

    It is a matter of herd hygiene too, if Cattle with Mad Cow and Bovine Johnes were tested for! and removed for eg it would help a lot. Banning RbGH everywhere also would help.(USDA and FDA banned the TESTING! saying it would “disadvantage” the larger producers who Do Not test???)
    Pature feed is what cows evolved to do, grains like corn and soy (GM all too often+cottonseed meal also GM) are killing the cows and taking valuable food cropland..
    Aussie version of Nais was Mandatory, against strong opposition, it was appr’d anyway, and all it has done is cost more. Our herds are clean and tested often to keep it so.
    Rustling still occurs, it means nothing to cut and replace a tag, easier than re branding., doesnt mean diddly, but raises revenue for Govt and Manufacturers of the chips!
    Same Bulls**t excuses used for small animal chips, in reality, waste of money, and risks tumours in your cat /dog /horse.

  5. says

    "NAIS promises to require every single livestock animal in America to be identified and tagged — no matter the size of the operation. So, you’ve got a few backyard chickens? Some milking goats? A small free-range pig farm? Say hello to expensive tagging & government paperwork!"

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  6. says

    Good for you Wendell! Sadly, the time for civil disobedience is upon us yet there are far too few aware of the need for it.

    Incidentally, there is a lot of talk of our liberties, consumer rights and so on with the raw milk debate, yet I have not read any arguments about our loss of culture. The family dinner table is (was) the locus of culture since the dawn of humanity… the corporate agricultural production and distribution system backed by government legislation is taking this integral piece of our culture out of our homes and away from us. The famous anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss said that food is equivalent in order of magnitude to each culture as is its language. It is downright criminal what is being done to our food in general, and thus our culture overall. It should not only be our right to choose to drink raw milk but also looked upon as our right to maintain our cultural heritage. I would like to see a lawyer take up this argument; it is a strong one and should be quite easily defended. If Sikhs can win the right to carry their traditional knives in Canada with the cultural argument, then why should any European, African, Indian, (or anyone with a cultural background whose food incorporated dairy animals like goats, cows, sheep, oxen, and so on) not also be able to defend their cultural rights to drinking/having access to/selling raw milk and their products? Why are we North Americans giving up our traditions and cultures so easily?

    This comment was originally posted on The Bovine

  7. esbee says

    Our govt is certainly putting more effort into tracking those who own livestock than known jihadists usch as Hasan, who even though it was known he was a loose cannon, did nothing. You can see the results, 13 dead, many wounded. it will not change but only get worse for us.. Wisconsin , where NAIS is mandatory, has arrested some
    amish and members of R-calf, brought them to court for resisting NAIS. (while drug dealers in those areas continue to run free!) This is the future of our country. Tell the Muslim radicals to wait a while. they will not have to do any more jihadding, the country they hate will do it for them.

  8. says

    Civil disobidience is a very light term to describe this situation. Fear your goverment, and you will be rewarded. Obey your goverment and you will be rewarded. Hate your goverment and won’t last long enough to talk about it.

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