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Letter from Langdon: Surround Sound on NAIS

Article from Time

Back from hearings on the Department of Agriculture's proposed animal-tagging system, Richard Oswald provides an earful.

By Richard Oswald

nais opponents in Jefferson City
Richard Oswald
Two opponents of USDA's proposed system of mandatory identification of livestock made the opposition plain in Jefferson City, Missouri, on Tuesday. Hundreds attended the agriculture department's "listening session."

NAIS stands for National Animal Identification System. According to USDA, the purposes of the animal tagging program are to increase the United States' disease-response capabilities, limit the spread of animal diseases, minimize animal losses and their economic impact, protect producers' livelihoods, and maintain market access. 

Administered by USDA, NAIS consists of three main phases; first is premises ID, second will be animal ID, and third will be traceability.

NAIS mandates that radio frequency tags (RFID tags) or chips be attached or implanted directly onto commercial livestock. Tags would be read or scanned by "readers" to create a computerized record of every animal -- hog, goat, cow, horse, chicken, turkey, elk, deer, or any other commercially produced livestock.

Some producers, such as dairies, are already using computers to track the movement and production of individual animals. In some cases those existing programs would be in compliance with USDA. In other cases, producers would have to change systems to meet the new law.

As part of the third phase of NAIS -- traceability -- anytime a farm animal leaves its birth premises, the producer would be required to report that movement to USDA within 48 hours.

For a Northwest Missouri beef producer to comply, he or she would first have to apply for a premises ID, then acquire enough radio frequency tags to ID every animal in the herd, and a tag-reader to scan the tags and download their information to a computer. (Conventional numbered ear tags or tattoos are not acceptable under NAIS guidelines.) Then that information would be transferred to an approved animal trace processing system (ATPS) via an internet connection to an animal tracking database (ATD) website.

USDA proposes that there will be several privately run databases. (Databases may be located anywhere, including outside the borders of the United States.) Producers will be required to pay a fee for access to the system.

If a cow leaves the farm to be sold, or taken to the vet for treatment, or moved to a different pasture that's not on the home premises, its movement would have to be reported to NAIS.

Large commercial feedlots would be exempt from individual animal ID requirements, with only one ID number required for all the animals inside.

Producer objections to NAIS involve issues of cost, privacy, and liability. Some producers are worried that meatpackers would transfer liability for bacterial contamination of processed meat  back to the farm of origin. Others see NAIS as a threat to the confidentiality of producer records; they're concerned that foreign governments, packers, or other buyers might gain access to those records for their own benefit. Tags that remain on an animal throughout the supply chain could be scanned, and the data retained by buyers to build a database of a producer's products and values. Some worry that packers might use the information they gain from RFID tags for an unfair advantage.

Marketing advantage was the chief rationale for premises ID when the states began registration several years ago. In the current NAIS proposal, there is no provision that deals with marketing or pricing.

Owners of independent livestock markets are concerned about the bookkeeping and reporting burden NAIS creates for them. Some states have already required FFA members to comply with NAIS before they're allowed to participate in livestock projects.

At the NAIS listening session in Jefferson City on June 9, many groups sent representatives to speak on the proposed tagging regulations. Among them were the following: Missouri Farmers Union, R-CALF USA, Missouri Campaign for Liberty, Arkansas Animal Producers Association, International Dairy Goat Registry, Missouri Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Illinois Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, Ozarks Property Rights Congress. Missouri First Inc., Liberty Restoration Project, Legislators Against Real ID, Missouri Libertarian Party, Missouri Constitution Party, Missouri Rural Crises Center, Citizens for Private Property, and Douglas County Citizens for Liberty.

Also attending were Missouri State Senators Wes Shoemeyer and Chuck Purgason, and Missouri State Representatives Paul Quinn, and Tom Shively.

Only one person from the group of around 300 made positive comments about NAIS and he left before finishing his remarks. Later on, one lady stood up and apologized for heckling him, but not for her viewpoint.

Approximately 50 others testified against it during the three-hour session. Speakers were chosen by drawing numbered tickets. Statements were limited to three minutes.

Still, USDA representatives said that they wanted those present to help implement a system that works well. There was no "if"  -- it was a "when" NAIS is implemented.

Below are some of the comments offered by those who took the microphone:

From USDA: "NAIS will be implemented in three phases. First is premise ID, second will be animal ID, and third will be traceability. We need a good system in place to keep our livestock healthy. Registry has no effect on ownership. USDA will not require registration of non-commercial animal production (pets). USDA will not require anyone to violate their religious beliefs; you can have someone tag your animals for you if animal ID violates those beliefs. We want to hear what you tell us."

listening session in Jefferson City on NAIS
Richard Oswald More than 200 people -- farmers, ranchers, and representatives of citizens and consumer groups -- turned out in Jefferson City, Missouri, June 9 to alert the USDA to their views on a proposed federal system of mandatory animal tagging.

And hear they did. Here are some comments from Tuesday's listening session:

"Keep NAIS voluntary for the benefit of producers."

"NAIS will cost nearly $200,000,000 annually."

"Stop importing livestock from foreign countries with disease problems."

"I enrolled in premise ID for scrapies prevention. Now I can't get out."

"We believe USDA has to confront the issue of competition (in markets)"

"We need real inspection in slaughter plants."

"Foreign produced catfish imported into this country are labeled 'Delta Pride' while our catfish producers are growing algae in their ponds."

"If big was better Miss America would weigh 400 pounds."

"Moving the animal disease lab from Plum Island, and Foot and Mouth disease, to Kansas? Is that supposed to be food safety? Shame, shame."

"Dairymen today are earning $1.87 less per hundred (pounds of milk) than they were in 1980."

"We tag our cattle, it's proprietary and we have no need to be part of NAIS."

"Where did this thing come from? American Farm Bureau started promoting it in 1994. This thing's been going on for 15 years."

"I want no national animal ID system. Scrap the whole thing."

"It is not designated to be voluntary."

"I consider NAIS to be a violation of my constitutional rights."

"Mining of databases (like the one proposed for NAIS) is making hackers millions."

"This would be a good place for President Obama to discuss government intervention (in private business)."

"Information is power."

"I'm a consumer, not a producer. If a producer has to spend more to produce my food, it will cost me more."

"I simply will not comply."

"Australia has a database like the one proposed here. There are 4 million cattle (phantom cattle) in the Australian database that cannot be accounted for."

"Our country was built on the free enterprise system. It should not be changed."

"USDA is on the wrong track by burdening producers with this unacceptable program."


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