The debate Tuesday night in Vermont's statehouse wasn't among legislators-- it was among farmers. Farmers who are being asked to register their premises with the Agency of Agriculture.
"If for instance avian influenza comes to Vermont we'll need to know which farms are in a certain distance of infected farms," explains Vt. Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr.
The proposal would create a database of all places livestock are raised-- from large farms with hundreds of animals, to backyards with just a handful of chickens. The goal-- rapid response in case of an outbreak like the bird flu.
"If you own livestock in Vermont you have a shared responsibility to everyone else who own livestock in Vermont. None of us can guarantee the viruses will stay on our farm in our own animals," says Kerr.
"I consider that a death sentence to small farmers," said farmer and premise registration opponent Alan LePage.
Like LePage, not everyone is convinced. Some say it's an intrusion of privacy and won't stop the bird flu.
LePage says registration would make a difficult job even harder: "Why are small scale producers being saddled with this onerous intrusion into their farming business. Animal ID should be voluntary. It can be effective that way."
"We need to address corporate responsibility instead of diverting attention from them and onto the small poultry operations through police state tactics," said another opponent, John Ball.
"I believe this is a case of nails which will put the nails in the coffins of small farmers, homesteaders and backyard people who enjoy raising their own food for their own consumption and not to put it in the commercial supply system," said Peter Keene, who also opposes premise registration.
Others, though, don't see premise registration as a problem-- but as a solution to keeping more animals safe.
"Premise ID will not cure any disease. It will help in being able to track potential victims of a disease outbreak, their threat to others and a possible strategy to control and neutralization of the disease threat in as short a time as possible," said John Roberts.
This is not the end of the debate. Vermont will hold four more public hearings around the state during the month of June. Officials will weigh the testimony and decide later this summer whether to make premise registration mandatory.
Kerr says a few hundred farmers have already registered their premises with the state. Right now the process is voluntary-- people who raise livestock on their property can register on the Agriculture Department's web site. There is no cost and the state emphasizes the information on the database will be kept confidential and only used in an emergency.
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