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The Truth About the Animal ID Plan

The federal National Animal Identification System (NAIS) plan is promoted as pro-health, but actually threatens healthy farming practices.

| June/July 2007

  • Wanted Pappy
    Under the National Animal ID plan, every farm animal would have to be registered—every single chicken, cow and goat in the United States.
  • Cattle Retinal Scan
    Manny Encinias, livestock specialist at New Mexico State University, takes a retinal scan of a cow. Scientists in 2005 evaluated eye-scanning and radio frequency identification ear tags as part of a pilot project using New Mexico cattle.
  • Fowl
    Would a mandatory ID plan prevent bird flu? Chances are it wouldn’t. Bird flu moves so quickly it’s difficult to contain even when it can be tracked.
  • Prize Cow
    Mandatory animal ID would require owners to track any animal who leaves their property in a national database. This could include even routine trips such as to the county fair.
    Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/JAN TYLER
  • Cattle
    Cattle head down the road.
    Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/JAN TYLER
  • Milking A Cow
    For people with only a few animals, the costs of animal identification equipment can be daunting. Whether you have one cow, 10 or 100, you might be required to buy the same $200 scanner.
  • Nursing Pigs
    In the United States, there are approximately 63 million hogs.
    Photo courtesy PHOTODISC
  • Horse Riding
    Riders on horseback crossing a stream.
  • Horse
    The mandatory livestock ID plan would require livestock owners to report the movements of all animals that leave their property. Some horse owners are concerned that this provision will apply to trail rides.

  • Wanted Pappy
  • Cattle Retinal Scan
  • Fowl
  • Prize Cow
  • Cattle
  • Milking A Cow
  • Nursing Pigs
  • Horse Riding
  • Horse

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.

The animal ID program, however, is a one-size-fits-all program targeting many species of animals. It’s difficult to see how it can be useful against any specific disease. Among poultry, avian influenza is the most obvious disease threat. Yet it spreads so rapidly in confinement chicken facilities that an entire building — hundreds of thousands of birds — can be infected quickly, and it requires a much shorter response time than 48 hours. In the case of a disease with a long incubation period, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease), animal tracking may identify cows that shared the same location years ago. But control of the disease requires culling affected animals, and the only way to determine if an animal is affected is a lab test of brain tissue after death. It would be far easier and cheaper to simply test every cow upon slaughter, before releasing the beef into the food supply.

8/24/2009 3:47:46 PM

Hmm... Has anyone addressed the fact that if every animal is chipped, what happens to those chips when the animal is slaughtered at the packing house? How much time is the average employee going to spend looking for a chip the size of a grain of rice in a carcass, when they are paid on rapid processing and production? Am I missing something here? Will folks be frying up ID chips with their chicken, stew meat or bacon and consuming them? Will the ID chips be floating around in people? Am I going to be tracked down as a cow, several chickens and a pig on a National Animal data base? HA! The NAIS project is beyond ridiculous. Washington can't even balance their budget without printing money. You and I would go to jail for that. And they plan on expanding their phenomenal incompetence?

Michele Bline
11/12/2008 12:17:56 AM

Besides fighting it tooth and nail...may I suggest building animal friendly ramps so we can hide them in our house. Or camofladging them to look like 1960 hippie vans. I guess what I mean is I will do whatever it takes to keep my animals. This is a big step toward communism.

2/12/2008 7:14:58 AM

Wake up America. This animal ID program is just a precursor to your ID implantation. This is just part of the greater plan. An experiment.

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