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More Information on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

Web Note: This article is a year old, but very comprehensive. Officially, NAIS has been declared "voluntary at the federal level," but the USDA is still funding local governments to participate. For more information on NAIS, read this recently posted article, or visit the OCA's Farm Issues page for more information and resources.

The development of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created enormous controversy across the country over the past year. Some see such a system as a means to track and identify outbreaks in livestock of various diseases such as brucellosis, E. coli variants, salmonella and mad cow disease in a quick and efficient manner, while others see this as an encroachment on their civil liberties and privacy as well as an attempt to seal the fate of small- to moderate-sized farms and ranches.

Corporate Support

NAIS has been gaining support in agribusiness as a method for sourcing the origins of mad cow disease or possible terrorist biological attacks on U.S. livestock. Opponents point out the plan was drawn up by corporations like Monsanto, the National Pork Producers, National Cattlemens Beef Association, and Cargill Meat. It would require all owners of even a single farm animal to register their home with a national tracking system, including global positioning coordinates (for satellite tracking) and implant or tag every animal with a radio frequency device (RFID). Large-scale livestock producers say NAIS would help them control outbreaks of disease by allowing individual animals to be tracked to their origins. Small-scale farmers say the registration fees, RFID expenses and administrative bureaucracy of the system would drive them out of business.

According to the timelines presented in USDA's NAIS website, the program is to be implemented in full by January 2009 with premise registration and animal identification mandatory by January 2008. However, according to NAIS head Neil Hammerschmidt, the implementation dates may be delayed.

What is NAIS?

The National Animal Identification System, which the USDA is currently in the process of implementing, is intended to identify animals and poultry and record their movements over the course of their lifespans, as well as track them as they come into contact with, or commingle with, animals other than herd mates from their premises of origin. According to the USDA, the ultimate goal of the program is to create a uniform national animal tracking system that will help maintain the health of U.S. herds and flocks. By January 2009, when the program is intended to be fully implemented and become fully mandatory, the USDA expects that NAIS will be able to identify all premises and animals that have had direct contact with a foreign animal disease or a domestic disease of concern within 48 hours of discovery.

Currently, working groups comprised of industry and government representatives are developing plans for cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas and alpacas. Many of these animals can already be identified through some sort of identification system, but these systems are not consistent across the country, according to the USDA.

NAIS began to take shape in April, 2002 when the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) established a task force to create an animal identification plan. USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and over 30 livestock organizations participated in this task force. The final report was presented at the United States Animal Health Association's (USAHA) annual meeting in October, 2002, where the work plan was accepted through a unanimous resolution. APHIS then established the National Identification Development Team (NIDT), a joint state, federal and industry group to further advance this effort. Throughout 2003, the NIDT, consisting of approximately 100 animal and livestock industry professionals representing more than 70 associations, organizations, and government agencies, expanded upon the work plan to produce the initial draft of the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP). Although early versions of the USAIP focused on food animals only, other livestock species (such as alpacas, llamas, and horses) were incorporated into the plan. In April 2004, the USDA announced the framework for implementing the NAIS.


The first step in implementing the NAIS is identifying and registering premises that house animals. Such premises would include locations where livestock and poultry are managed, marketed or exhibited. States implemented the capability to register premises according to the national standards last year. APHIS is currently training state officials on how to use a standardized premises registration system. USDA is also evaluating alternative registration systems that states or others have developed and want to use, to ensure these systems meet the national standards. In addition, USDA is working with states and industry to "educate" the public about the NAIS.

As premises are registered, another component of the NAIS-animal identification-will be integrated into the system. Unique animal identification numbers (AINs) will be issued to individually identified premises. In the case of animals that move in groups through the production chain-such as pigs and poultry-the group will be identified through a group/lot identification number (Group/Lot IDs). USDA is developing the standards for collecting and reporting information, but industry will determine which type of identification method works best for each species. These methods could include radio frequency identification tags, retinal scans, DNA or others. As long as the necessary data are sent to USDA's information repositories in a standardized form, it will be accepted.

As premises are registered and animals or groups of animals are identified based on the standard protocols, USDA will begin collecting information about animal movements from one premise to another. With an animal tracking system in place, USDA says they will be able to perform rapid tracebacks in case of an animal disease outbreak. As envisioned, only federal, state, and tribal animal health authorities would have direct access to the national premises and animal identification information repositories.

Interestingly, the National Cattlemens Beef Association attempted to have the "national database" privatized and put under their control. Tam Moore of Capital Press, January 27, 2006, reported that the USDA has dropped a 6-month-old plan for contracting with a privatized central database to launch the cattle segment of ID. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns had announced the single privatized concept back in July 2005. The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), United Stockgrowers of America and other ID critics questioned USDA's intention to concentrate the data with a system the National Cattlemen's Beef Association organized, then spun off as a free-standing nonprofit organization, the U.S. Animal Identification Organization. Instead of a single, private database, USDA, state and tribal animal health agencies will use multiple databases, relying on those who contract with the USDA to furnish livestock tracking information.

Much of the responsibility for delivering the program remains at the state level. Stages of development will allow states to more readily establish their local action items, according to the USDA. To determine what your state is doing with regards to NAIS, please go to


The NAIS is supposed to contain only information that animal health officials need to track suspect animals and identify any other animals that may have been exposed to a disease. Animal identification and tracking systems maintained by the states or regional alliances will be an integral part of the overall NAIS information infrastructure. The state and regional systems will be able to collect and maintain more information than is required for the NAIS, yet only the required data need to be available for the national animal records repository. According to the USDA, to help assure participants that the information will be used only for animal health purposes, the information will be confidential and USDA and its state partners are to work to protect data confidentiality.

Key NAIS Milestones

Ӣ APRIL, 2005: The USDA issued its Draft Strategic Plan & Draft Program Standards for public comment, which ended in July of 2005.

Ӣ JULY, 2005: All states capable of premises registration.

Ӣ JULY, 2005: Animal Identification Number system operational.

The following dates may be delayed according to the USDA. Updates have yet to be issued.

Ӣ JULY, 2006 : The target date for the USDA to issue a proposed rule setting forth the requirements for NAIS premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking. There will be a limited public comment period after publication of the rule (WAPF will issue an Action Alert when the comment period occurs).

Ӣ APRIL, 2007: Premises registration and animal identification "alerts."

Ӣ FALL, 2007: USDA will publish a final rule to establish the requirements of the mandatory NAIS.

Ӣ JANUARY, 2008: Premises registration and animal identification become mandatory.

Ӣ JANUARY, 2009: Animal tracking becomes mandatory, including enforcement of the reporting of all animal movements.

For more information about the NAIS, contact: Neil Hammerschmidt USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services 4700 River Road, Unit 43 Riverdale, MD 20737-1231 Telephone (301) 734-5571 Website:

So, Why Would You Oppose NAIS?

Perhaps the most eloquent opponent of NAIS is Mary Zanoni, PhD, JD, executive director of Farm for LifeTM and a New York lawyer. I have consolidated her opposition statements so you can get a sense of what folks find intrusive, disturbing and negative about NAIS.

* In general, opponents of NAIS say that the program will drive small producers out of the market, will make people abandon raising animals for their own food, will invade Americans' personal privacy to a degree never before tolerated, will violate the religious freedom of Americans whose beliefs make it impossible for them to comply, and will erase the last vestiges of animal welfare from the production of animal foods.

* Every person who owns even one horse, cow, pig, chicken, sheep, or virtually any livestock animal, will be forced to register his or her home, including owner's name, address and telephone number, and then be keyed to global positioning system (GPS) coordinates for satellite monitoring in a giant federal database under a 7-digit "premises ID number."

* Every animal will be assigned a 15-digit ID number, also to be kept in a giant federal database. The form of ID will most likely be a tag or microchip containing a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), designed to be read from a distance. The plan may also include collecting the DNA and/or a retinal scan of every animal

* The owner will be required to report the birthdate of an animal, the application of every animal's ID tag, every time an animal leaves or enters the property, every time an animal loses a tag, every time a tag is replaced, the slaughter or death of an animal, or whether any animal is missing. Such events must be reported within 24 hours.

* Third parties, such as veterinarians, will be required to report "sightings" of animals. In other words, if you call a vet to your property to treat your horse, cow or any other animal, and the vet finds any animal without the mandatory 15-digit computer-readable ID, the vet may be required to report you. If you do not comply, the USDA will exercise "enforcement" against you. The USDA has not yet specified the nature of "enforcement," but presumably it will include imposing fines and/or seizing your animals. The plan permits no exceptions-under the USDA plan, you will be forced to register and report even if you raise animals only for your own food or keep horses for draft or for transportation.

* Eradication of Small Farms-people with just a few meat animals or 40-cow dairies are already living on the edge financially. The USDA plan will force many of them to give up farming.

* Loss of the True Security of Organic and Local Foods-The NAIS is touted by the USDA and agricorporations as a way to make our food supply "secure" against diseases or terrorism. However, most people instinctively understand the fact that real food security comes from raising food yourself or buying from a local farmer you actually know. The USDA plan will only kill off more local sources of production and further promote the giant industrial methods which cause many food safety and disease problems.

* Extreme Damage to Personal Privacy-legally, livestock animals are a form of personal property. It is unprecedented for the United States government to conduct large-scale computer-aided surveillance of its citizens simply because they own a common type of property. (The only exceptions are registration of motor vehicles and guns, due to their clear inherent dangers, but they are registered at the state level, not by the federal government.) The NAIS would actually subject the owner of a chicken to far more surveillance than the owner of a gun.

* Insult to Animal Welfare-the NAIS is the ultimate objectification of higher, sensitive living creatures, treating individual animals as though they were cans of peas with a bar code. Many people who raise their own animals or buy from small, local producers do so because they are very troubled by industrial-scale production of chickens, cattle and pigs. These people will be forced to either sacrifice their personal privacy to government surveillance, or to stop raising their own food by humane standards.

* Burden on Religious Freedom-many adherents of plain (and other) faiths raise their own food animals and use animals in farming and transportation because their beliefs require them to live this way. Such people obviously cannot comply with the USDA's computerized, technology-dependent system. The NAIS will force these people to violate their religious beliefs. (The Amish are very much against this program).


FIRST AMENDMENT: The first amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans the right to the free exercise of religion. Many Christians and person of other religious beliefs cannot comply with the NAIS because it violates the free exercise of their religious beliefs. For example, the Old Order Amish believe they are prohibited from registering their farms or animals in the proposed program due to scriptural prohibitions. Other simply hold that NAIS violates their personal beliefs-you do not need to belong to an established religion to exercise your first amendment rights.

FOURTH AMENDMENT: The fourth amendment guarantees the right to privacy and security against unreasonable searches and seizures. The requirement of households and small farms that own animals to register the premises so that the Department can subject these premises to satellite surveillance is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.

FIFTH AMENDMENT: The fifth amendment guarantees protection against the loss of life, liberty or private property without due process of law. The NAIS allows the Department of Agriculture to seize privately owned animals without due process.

FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT: No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of US citizens nor deprive them of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Much of the "authority" for NAIS will come through legislation on the state level.

 Whether or not the USDA delays the implementation of a national, mandatory system, many states are actively implementing their own mandatory premise and animal identification systems. Wisconsin and North Carolina have passed legislation for mandatory premises registration and Indiana has adopted regulations for mandatory premise registration beginning in September. Legislation is pending in Texas. To check on what is happening in your state, visit

Clothed in the garb of public safety, NAIS is shaping up to be a very dangerous fox in the backyard henhouse.

Battleground Texas

Texas is shaping up to be the first battleground state for NAIS. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, NAIS legislation passed without any public scrutiny.

However, in Texas, in response to proposed regulations from the Texas Animal Health Commission to require every person who owns even one livestock animal to register their premises with the state, Texas farmers, ranchers, companion-animal owners, and consumers rallied in opposition. They sent in almost 700 letters during the Commission's 45-day comment period, and over 200 people showed up to the Commission's public meeting on February 16.

Although the public pressure convinced the Commission to table the regulations until their next meeting in May, the real work has just begun. We still have to gain support in the legislature, or the Commission will move forward with the regulations.

A group of Texans are in the process of establishing a new non-profit to lobbing oorganization on behalf of small farmers in Texas. The first target will be the Texas Legislature but the organizations plans to operate on a national level to put a stop to NAIS.

The Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is serving as an information clearinghouse at this point, so please check their website for progress on the new entity and information on how you can help: or email

Resources for Opposing NAIS

* FARM for LIFE TM is a public-interest organization dedicated to supporting the rights of small and subsistence farmers and consumers of organic, natural, and local foods. FARM for LIFE's first project is to stop the USDA plan for mandatory animal ID. The organization will publish a newsletter three times a year (first publication scheduled for November 1, 2005), to inform citizens of developments concerning animal ID and other issues vital to the small farming and natural/organic food communities. Newsletter subscribers will also be sent information at appropriate times on how to contact lawmakers and the USDA to oppose animal ID. In addition, FARM for LIFE will coordinate with other existing interest groups to mount an effective campaign against animal ID. Please help stop animal ID and support FARM for LIFE by subscribing to the newsletter: $25 individual subscription (1 year), $40 institutional subscription (1 year). Please help with an additional donation in any amount. Make your check payable to "Farm for Life" and mail to: Farm for Life, PO Box 501, Canton, New York 13617. For further information email: .

* Articles by Mary Zanoni, Ph.D. (Cornell), J.D. (Yale), Executive Director of Farm for LifeTM: "Why You Should Oppose the USDA's Mandatory Property and Animal Surveillance Program" ( Why%20You%20Should%20Oppose.pdf) and "Comments on NAIS Draft Program Standards and Draft Strategic Plan" (

* Stop Animal Online grassroots organization created to stop NAIS; their website includes information on what you can do to oppose NAIS (

* Organic Consumers Association (OCA):

* No Walter Jeffries, Sugar Mountain Farm, Vermont (

* National Property Owners Association:

* American Poultry Association: Preserve Your Rights as a Poultry Fancier (

* Free Tennessee:

* The Petition Anti-NAIS petition (

* The "National Animal Identification System": A new threat to rural freedom? in

* National Animal ID Run Amok in

* The Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association: or email .

As more information on the progress of NAIS becomes available, we will keep you informed through the Weston A. Price Foundation e-mail Action Alerts.

Likewise, if you have any information about what is going on in your state, please let us know at .

The Parable of the Mouse, the Chicken, the Pig and the Cow

Food for Thought for Supporters of the National Animal Identification System

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. "What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house-like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see the venomous snake whose tail was caught in the trap.

The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, and she returned home with a fever. Everyone knows you treat a fever with fresh chicken soup, so the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient.

But his wife's sickness continued, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer's wife did not get well; she died. So many people came for her funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear that someone is facing a problem and think it doesn't concern you, remember-when one of us is threatened, we are all at risk. We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage and support one another.

Laws that make the small farmer vulnerable can also be used against large farmers. . . in fact, it just might be the smallest of farms that survive!