Get ready for a couple of reversals, as we check out a congressional candidate and the source of their concern - a piece of federal legislation.
The candidate is Delia Lopez, who has taken on the exceptionally difficult job of running as a Republican in Oregon's 3rd congressional district - most consists mostly of Portland and immediate areas, is everwhelmingly Democratic and is represented by a Democrat (Earl Blumenauer) who routinely wins re-elects in the high 60s or higher. Lopez has another problem, her residence: Oakland, a small town near Roseburg, and about three hours' drive time south of the 3rd district. (Her candidacy is quite legal: To run for the U.S. House, you have to live in the same state as the district but not necessarily within the district itself.)
All of which makes her an unusual candidate, but one more thing got our attention the other day, an e-mail noting her endorsement by the Oregon Consumer and Farmers Association. It describes itself as "an Oregon group leading the fight against NAIS, the National Animal Identification System." (In an e-mail to us, Lopez confirmed the endorsement.)
The NAIS is proposal of some import which probably has passed by a good many Americans. It is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and at its core has to do with tracking food and some other animals, especially those that may carry disease. From Wikipedia: "The National Animal Identification System covers most livestock species, including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and even some fish species, under the heading of aquaculture. Locations, or premises, where these animals are housed or otherwise handled will thus need to be identified, as this is the first component of NAIS. Afterward, the animals themselves will be identified, and, finally, they are to be tracked in their movements between the various premises. Once these three parts of NAIS are fully implemented, the ultimate goal of the program, traceback within 48 hours of a diseased animal's movements, will be possible. This traceback would enable animal health officials to identify all the animals and locations that have had direct contact with the animal and take appropriate measures to prevent the further spread of disease." The technology used for the tracking probably would involve microchips.
Support and opposition to the idea split along sometimes unexpected lines. A coalition of the largest agribusiness companies in the country (Monsanto and Cargill, for two good examples) are strong in favor and have been pushing it; the alliance there with the Bush Administration is clear. On the basis of ties and alliances, you'd expect a lot of national Republicans to go along with it. But there's also a substantial and apparently growing opposition, nationally well organized, and tied around a number of ideas ranging from big brotherism to concern about property rights, imposing bureaucracy on very small operators (even, some note, families that have just one animal in residence - say, a single pet chicken). There are even religious concerns.
The Oregon 3rd district is the second most urban district in the Northwest; not but a limited number of farms there. It would seem to be an unusual place for a discussion about NAIS. But maybe not. Farm issues properly concern urban people too, as any Oregonian who visits a farmer's market well knows. This could be an unexpected but appropriate venue for the discussion.