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NAIS: Detriment to Texas agriculture

Article from Bandera County Courier

By Glyn Wrigh

tIn 2005, with support from Texas Farm Bureau (TFB), Southwestern Cat­t­le Raisers Association (TSCRA) and Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA), the Texas Legis­lature passed HB 1361 giving the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) the power to implement the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in Texas.

NAIS is a federal program designed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to identify all livestock animals by tracking them to their original premises in the event of disease outbreak.

Although USDA advertises that the program is voluntary at the federal level, they are encouraging states to make the program mandatory at the state level.

HB 1361 gave TAHC the power to do so. This means that at any time, Texas farmers and ranchers can be required to begin the three-stage program. First, they must register their premises, resulting in an intrusion into private lives as detailed information must be given about property, business and even movement.
After registration, the animals must be identified by a 15-digit number either individually or as group or lot identification. According to USDA, there are 849 recommended identification devices available such as ear tags, radio frequency identification ear tags and injectable transponders.

Along with these guidelines, anytime an animal is tagged, needs to be re-tagged, is killed or dies or is missing or lost, it must be reported to the government within 24 hours. Once these steps have been completed, the government intends to be able to track an animal within 48 hours of disease outbreak.

NAIS is not only intrusive, but the program is also costly and will damage the economy. USDA conducted a study estimating the costs of animal identification. Their numbers show that the costs will range from $2.48 per animal for confined animal feeding operations with more than 5,000 head of cattle to $7.17 per animal for ranchers with less than 50 head.

However, this type of system has already been implemented in other countries with estimates that range from $37 per head to $69 a head. Regardless, this system will place a heavy burden on small farms and ranches.

Since HB 1361, there have been efforts in two legislative sessions to reform the statute and maintain the program as voluntary in Texas. This would prevent the violation of privacy and freedom of farmers and ranchers. However, HB 461 failed to pass the Texas Senate in the 2007 session; and, in the recent session, HB 3322 and SB 682 failed to make any headway in the legislative process.

Texas Landowners Council and others, including Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, strongly supported proposed legislation making the program voluntary. However, these bills received strong opposition from TFB, TCFA, Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Pork Producers Assocation, and Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD). Although TSCRA remained neutral on the issue during the recent session, their website indicates that they opposed SB 682.

USDA is currently in the process of holding “Listening Sessions” across the nation to receive feedback on the program. Approximately 150 people attended the meeting in Austin. Only eight individuals in favor of the program were present, mostly pork producers and members of TAD.

Perhaps USDA should consider their statistics showing the small 36 percent nationwide who have chosen to voluntarily register their premises since the program began and the approximately 900,000 who haven chosen not to participate.

Although these numbers are evidence that the program is viewed as costly, intrusive and a great burden to the individual, it should also be noted that the department might be underestimating the total number of premises and, therefore, artificially inflating the percentage of registered participants.

Although the “Listening Sessions” are still in progress, USDA appears to have begun to refrain from the promotion of NAIS at these sessions. This does not mean any changes will occur, but the more resistance the government receives pertaining to NAIS, the better off farmers and ranchers in Texas will be.


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