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.


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.

11/28/2007 8:35:39 PM

Tracie you're right this is in preperation for the mark of the beast. Let the nay sayers laugh we know the truth!!!

11/26/2007 3:11:37 PM

Well, It looks like Illinois is joining the pro-NAIS band wagon. On the website for the Illinois State fair, we see that no one can exibit livestock at any Illinois fair(county, state, 4-H , or FFA) in 2008 without a Nais premise registration number. Too bad for any youth with a single lamb or any livestock project. My kids use to earn their "summer wages" by showing livestock. This could well eliminate the numbers at small county fairs, resulting in the disappearance of many livestock shows due to less dollars allocated for premiums!

7/24/2007 7:24:36 PM

Just one more intrusion into our freedom, in the name of doing good. Taken by itself, the National Animal Identification System would be benign, but added to all the other identification systems, it takes us even closer to the Brave New World. Want to apply this technology to sex offenders? You have my vote. Repeat illegal aliens? The same. Cows? Give me a break. Better yet, get the government out of my life.

john edward mercier
7/8/2007 4:56:37 PM

So the State of NH which has most of the pieces in place under voluntary measures is the source of large scale animal diseases and the home of the 'Beast'? Or are we a large scale corporate farming State? Or is it the rest of the western world? Notice how their fixing their bio-security problems? While America is gearing up for a 'surge' in Iraq? And its pretty hard to believe an article that puts the blame on corporate agriculture for the program... they were the first to raise opposition.

6/19/2007 4:00:42 PM

Of course the Ag. Dept. doesn't care about the inconvenience or cost or enviornment or anything else except the welfare of the corporate agriculture giants. we have government of, by and for corporations. Abe Lincoln must be spinning in his grave. My grandfather was a vetinarian, and he fought against the corporitization of agriculture with everything he had. We had what was, for the time, a large farm, 400 acres more or less. We raised cattle on pasture, milked cows and sent the milk to the local dairy in a refrigerated truck, and raised tomatoes, which weent to the local cannery, and grains, which went to the local elevator. When we cleaned the barn, the straw and contents went into the manure spreader for application to the fields. We rotated crops, with legumes before and after corn, and pastured the cattle in the orchard. The chickens and geese were in the coop at night, and out in the morning. Sometimes that meant a hunt for where one of the hens had hidden a nest, and sometimes we didn't find it and she came home with her brood following her.

6/18/2007 11:09:34 AM

Thank you, Mr. Kittredge, for this excellent summary of a very ill-advised and ill-motivated program. My work is in H5N1, doing community-based education about this virus. For a long time, it has been clear to me that the CAFO system has been the source of accelerated mutations, creating this highly virulent and unprecedented strain of the H5N1 virus. Throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, the poultry industry has been using one tactic or another to force backyard farmers to "cease and desist" their biodiverse, healthy, small scale operations. Overt and covert coercion has been government policy for several years now, blaming migratory birds and backyard producers for the spread of H5N1, when the strain is directly caused by the conditions in the large-scale factories. So, I commend your efforts to block yet another tactic on the part of the agriculture industry to wipe out small producers. The tagging system, as you point out, has no real purpose in controlling disease, but is just another way to try to coerce all food production into the large-scale and dangerously unhealthy industrial systems. Carry on! Margot White, JD Institute for Public Health Univ of New Mexico 505-925-4452

6/12/2007 3:34:07 PM

Laugh if you want, but this "animal I.D. system" and others like it, are preparing the world for the human identification chip. We have RFID chips in our clothing, animal I.D.'s in our pets and even chips implanted in the elderly who have alzheimer's. Just as the Bible predicts, we will soon have a "mark"/"chip" in our right hand and forehead. Yes, "The Mark Of The Beast." Yes, I'm sure you're smirking now. Just remember this comment when it comes to pass. :)

john edward mercier
5/31/2007 8:07:11 PM

I think most of the large groups opposed to NAIS have moved on. According to Sen. Inhofe's minority statements on the Sen. Science Committee, they are now focusing opposition on increased CAFE standards.

5/28/2007 2:07:52 PM

See also:

5/28/2007 2:06:10 PM

See also:

walter jeffries
5/25/2007 5:25:56 AM

Excellent overview of NAIS. We don't need more corporate welfare. NAIS is designed to maximize large corporate profits and markets for the big exporters while burdening small farmers. NAIS does not protect our food supply. It does violate our fundamental Constitutional rights. The best solution is to know where your feed comes from through buying locally or raising your food yourself. There is no need for NAIS.

5/22/2007 11:58:44 AM

WHOOPS :) here it is again, cleaned up a bit: (see pages 55,56,57,62 in link above)

john edward mercier
5/20/2007 7:53:40 AM

This is why I no longer buy the magazine... one-sided commentary without any editorial oversight.

5/19/2007 10:15:34 AM

Thank you Mr. Kittredge for an excellent article. I see you have done your homework. For your information, we in Missouri have been fighting Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Cattleman's Assc., Pork Producers and the Missouri Farmer's Alliance and others who are proponents of NAIS. We've spent an enormous amount of time and resources trying to get good, solid no-NAIS legislation passed in Missouri but in the end, on the last day, we were blocked by Rep. John Quinn who is the Ag-Policy Chair and Speaker of the House Rod Jetton. Our legislation passed both the House and the Senate by overwhelming majority but in spite of a verbal commitment from Rep. Quinn to bring the bill (sb156) back for a final vote on the last day of the session, he refused. And Speaker Jetton allowed him to. As far as Farm Bureau goes, it's amazing to me that an insurance company is telling our legislature what ag-policy we should or shouldn't have. And what's more amazing is that farmers continue to support them. The truth is that Farm Bureau is no longer a grassroots-run organization. The upper management folks are against the small farmer and rancher. If you look, they are always on the side of legislation that benefits thier pocketbook and big-ag businesses.

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