The USDA is Sued for Collecting Records on Livestock Owners

Freelance journalist Mary Zanoni is suing the USDA for collecting records on livestock owners across the country. The USDA is constructing a directory for these owners known as the National Premises Information Repository, as part of the National Animal Identification System. They claim that the records apply to an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act, and can be kept from the public.

| October/November 2008

Learn how confidentiality is at stake as the USDA begins collecting records on livestock owners. The program is known as the National Premises Information Repository. Although the NAIS program is technically “voluntary,” many say they’ve been entered into the Repository without their consent.

The USDA is Sued for Collecting Records on Livestock Owners

Mary-Louise Zanoni, a freelance writer from St. Lawrence County, N.Y., is taking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to court in an attempt to gain access to information collected as part of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The USDA is compiling a list of contact info for livestock owners, known as the National Premises Information Repository. Although the NAIS program is technically “voluntary,” many say they’ve been entered into the Repository without their consent.

Access to records would allow farmers to see whether or not their names are on the list, and if they were in fact removed upon request. The USDA refused to allow Zanoni access, citing an exemption through the Freedom of Information Act that states an agency can withhold “personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Zanoni says that the privacy exemption does not apply to her request. The USDA plans to use the Repository as the first step in the enactment of the NAIS program. The second step will involve assigning a 15-digit ID number to every animal on the premises, along with a radio frequency identification microchip.

It is the USDA’s goal to create a system by which the origin and movement of every livestock animal in the United States (even those kept as pets or 4-H projects) can be monitored in order to trace disease outbreaks. Concerns about the time, paperwork and costs involved — especially for small farmers — along with doubts about the program’s efficacy, have produced a wave of opposition.

To read more about NAIS, check out The Truth About the Animal ID Plan. — MOTHER

John Edward Mercier
11/3/2008 6:59:37 AM

Gregg, Your comment was cut short. But the truth remains that most transfer of disease is most logically between animals that have little contact. Animals held in relative quarantine would not come into contact, nor disperse beyond the premises (with use of BMP) disease. The program is not ideal... and several requests were made to the small application and homesteaders to enter their improvements. Since the dogs are not tracked... simply registered to a premise. I see no reason not to assume that other animals should be also... Unless of course we are willing to rid ourselves of all licenscing.

Greg T.
10/6/2008 7:58:48 AM

Dog to Livestock is a tempting analogy, but I think it goes deeper than that. Firstly, with regard to pet animals, yes dogs are registered and cleaned up after. Cats, fish, rodents, most birds, etc however are not. Requiring that persons register each pet animal would represent a monumental task, and would probably be of questionable value. The likelihood that one's goldfish would escape is clearly slim. ;) (escape successfully anyway) Similarly with livestock, it is important I think to consider the scope, practical issues and rewards involved. The format of the USDA's registry program and the wording of it place an interestingly uneven burden on owners of livestock. At it's most granular, the program can be interpreted to mean that anyone keeping any form of stock, regardless of purpose, must register each individual animal. Chickens, pigs, goats, horses, everything. However, the program also makes a distinction for large herd which move as a single unit, which may be registered with a single identifier, since they are effectively one organism from a pathology standpoint. Putting that into practice means that the largest producers who employ CAFO techniques are sharing a significantly lower burden to register thousands of head of stock, while they are also the most likely to harbor disease and have hard to check outbreaks. Small producers, self-supply producers and backyard hobbyists on the other hand would have to register individual animals. Much concern has been raised about communities like the Mennonite and Amish regarding the difficulty reporting would pose for their lifestyle. The argument that tracking disease is vital is hard to refute, and in fact is a valid point. However, the question of traceability seems, in the analysis, to be of more concern where massive numbers of stressed animals are moved; live, dead, whole, and in portions between various facilities. The notion that a disease outbreak at a 4H fair would be

John Edward Mercier
9/24/2008 10:08:44 AM

So registering ones dog and cleaning up after them on public property is a necessity. But registering livestock that leave a property is an 'invasion'?

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