USDA Issues New Memo
But.....Still Plans to Register People’s Property
Liberty Ark Alert:
In September, the USDA issued a memo to animal health officials that mandated NAIS premises registration be used any time someone had any activity on their property (such as vaccinations or testing) conducted under any of the federal disease control programs. We publicized the memo in November, and a public outcry ensued. The September 22 memo is posted here.
On December 22, USDA issued a new memo posted here, that revoked its September memo. The fact that USDA felt pressured to take this step is good news! But the new memo is far from being a complete victory.
On the last two pages of the new memo, USDA still provides for mandatory premises registration any time Veterinary Services personnel conduct an “activity” related to a federal disease control program, including such activities as vaccinations, certification, or surveillance. Moreover, accredited veterinarians are still expected to provide information on their clients to the government authorities to enable the voluntary or involuntary issuance of the NAIS registration. At the very end of the document, USDA includes language indicating that a property owner might elect not to have a NAIS PIN assigned to the premises, but does not explain how that fits with the directives in the memo that “all locations” that have a disease program activity “will be identified” with a NAIS PIN.” The ultimate effect is very unclear.
So, what is the difference between the two memos? The primary difference is that the new memo is more ambiguous. We’ve seen this before: in the original NAIS documents, USDA had a clear list of reportable events. By late 2007, USDA had vague categories such as “local” versus “regional,” and “high priority” versus “low priority,” to determine what comingling events were reportable. So apparently this is USDA’s mode of operation. It puts out documents with clear provisions, and then responds to citizen protests by cloaking the next document in ambiguity, without making significant substantive changes.
The substance of this new memo is very similar to the earlier memo, including mandatory registration of citizens’ property. The main improvement appears to be that people who choose not to be registered in NAIS will not be branded with a special code in the premises database, labeling them as dissenters.
In the new memo, USDA tries to add a feel-good aspect when it re-iterates that it has a procedure for people to opt out. However, if any “activity” for a disease program has occurred on the property, the property address will remain in the NAIS database.
In other words, the new memo appears to establish the following procedure:
1. If an animal health official or a federally accredited veterinarian conducts any activity (including vaccinations and certifications) under a federal disease control program (which includes brucellosis, tuberculosis, scrapie, pseudorabies, and equine infectious anemia), your information will be submitted to the agency and your property will be registered in the NAIS database.
2. If you then ask to opt out, your personal information will be deleted, but the address of your property will remain in the database with the assigned PIN number since a “program activity” is associated with it.
The language of the memo leaves a lot of unanswered questions, including what is the role of the state authorities. USDA states that “when the State or producer, or person responsible, for the premises elects not to have a standardized PIN assigned to the premises,” a state PIN will be issued. But is this only after the property is assigned a NAIS number and its owner seeks to opt out? And will the state authorities check if the registration is voluntary or not before sending people’s information to the USDA to be placed in the NAIS database? And what “events” or “activities” will prevent people from being able to opt out and use a state PIN? The memo leaves more questions than it answers...