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Organic Consumers Association

The Truth About the National Animal Identification System

If you've visited your local feed dealer or veterinarian recently, or read any of the dozens of livestock or poultry magazines targeted at small farmers, you probably already know what "NAIS" stands for. The National Animal Identification System is arguably the most hated federal program in rural America. The plan, released in draft form in April 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), proposed sweeping changes in the way animals are managed on small farms and homesteads. It called for registration of livestock "premises" and individual animals in national databases, and for tracking animal movements.

The draft called for all places where even a single livestock animal is held (farm, back yard, veterinarian office, fairground and slaughterhouse) to be given a unique seven-digit number and registered in a national database, along with its Global Positioning System coordinates and the name, phone number and address of the owner. It further proposed that every livestock animal (including cows, horses, llamas, pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens) be individually registered and tagged with a 15-digit number - preferably via a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), often called a chip. An exception would be made for animals raised as a group for their entire life cycle and never separated (such as birds or hogs in confinement settings), which could be assigned a group or lot number. Last, the draft proposed that the movements of any animal leaving the home place would have to be reported to the national database within 48 hours.

The 2005 draft plan stated that the program would be mandatory, phased in over several years. In November 2006, however, the USDA proclaimed that the program would be "voluntary at the federal level." This reversal came after an unprecedented outpouring of opposition from farmers and livestock owners across the country. Many opponents think the change is a tactical move in favor of more subtle methods to make everyone comply.

Horse owners were upset at the thought of having to report every trail ride. Backyard poultry raisers wondered where in a baby chick is the best place to implant an ID chip. Small farmers worried about how they could afford the chips, monitors, software and reporting systems necessary to comply. ANIMAL ID VS. DISEASES

The USDA's stated goal of their animal ID system is "to be able to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery." Yet the program is silent on how that information would be used to prevent or control disease outbreaks. In previous animal health programs that have required animal identification - such as brucellosis vaccination for cattle or culling for scrapie eradication among sheep - the program was targeted to a specific species of animal and a particular disease. The animal identification was needed and specifically tailored to indicate which cattle had been vaccinated or which sheep had been scrapie-free and for how long...

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