Animal Ag: National Animal ID System

Last edited by OrangeClouds115, June 28, 2008

The National Animal ID System (NAIS) is a USDA program that seeks to track all aquaculture, camelids (llamas and alpacas), cattle/bison, deer/elk, horses, goats, poultry, sheep, and pigs in the United States. NAIS piloted as a voluntary program (although in some cases it was about as voluntary as the Godfather's "offer you can't refuse"), with plans to make it mandatory by 2009. To track the animals listed above, NAIS requires all farms to register for "Premise ID Numbers" and then register their animals either individually or by lot.

Need for NAIS
It's been said "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and when it comes to implementing such a large, complex, and expensive program, that rule should apply. Unless there is a clear need for NAIS, we shouldn't mandate this "PATRIOT Act for animals."

The program claims to prepare our country in case of a disease outbreak such as bovine spongiform encephelopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow." Under NAIS, once a case of BSE is discovered, the government can easily find out where it came from and which other animals were with it. As BSE is contracted by eating an infected animal, other cattle that received the same feed as the identified sick cow should be tested.

Surely we require better defense against BSE as our current laws leave several loopholes open that make us vulnerable. However, as we currently test such a tiny percentage of cows for BSE (about 0.1% of cows slaughtered in the U.S.) that our system has been called "Don't Look, Don't Find," what good is a system to track sick animals if we don't find them in the first place?

Second, if we fear outbreaks of diseases such as BSE, scrapie (a brain-wasting disease in sheep), and avian flu, why do we allow concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, a.k.a. factory farms) to create such a high risk for disease in the first place? Animals in CAFOs often live in close quarters with one another and with their own excrement. In cases where all animals are genetically identical, if one animal lacks resistence to a particular disease, then they all do.

Often, animals' feed makes them sick, as Michael Pollan describes in The Omnivore's Dilemma when he visits a beef feedlot. In the case of feedlot beef, cows consume a diet of grain and antibiotics (sometimes supplemented with chicken litter), even though they evolved to graze on grass. Such a diet barely keeps the cows healthy until their slaughter and it also fails to prevent E. coli O57:H7 from growing in their guts. A switch to grass or alfalfa a few days before slaughter would eliminate most E. coli O57:H7 and allowing the cows to graze in pastures throughout their lives would keep them happy and healthy all along.

Small producers that raise pastured animals and avoid feeding them inappropriate materials lack the high risk for disease that CAFOs carry but they are still required to register under NAIS once it becomes mandatory. Furthermore, these small farms often raise their animals from birth to death in one place and then sell their products locally. Should a problem occur, it would most likely be well-contained in a local area and easy to track with or without NAIS.

Problems With NAIS
Unfortunately, NAIS as currently planned contains several flaws. It was planned for large producers but fails to accommodate small farms or pet owners that fall under its large umbrella. Below are some reasons why farmers, ranchers, and affected pet owners around the U.S. oppose NAIS:

1. Tracking animals sometimes tracks owners too. Consider the case of a horse owner who travels with her horse to a horse show in another city for a long weekend. The government requires notification of the horse's movement - which in this case is identical to the horse owner's movement.

2. The government's preferred disease control method is destroying animals. They may compensate the animals' owners but they have no way of factoring in additional compensation for rare breeding stock, personal pets, unusually outstanding individuals, or any other animal of unusually high value. They also fail to consider cases where the owner is willing to take drastic measures to keep such animals alive.

3. NAIS increases costs unfairly for small producers. For an enormous chicken CAFO, NAIS allows them to register large numbers of chicks in lots. The chicks were born together, travel together, and die together. A small producer, which doesn't raise large numbers of chickens in such a standardized way, must register each individual bird. Consider the cost of identifying each bird with a legband (and replacing that leg band as the chicken grows). Assuming the legband costs $2 and the chicken needs 4 during its life, you've just added $8 in costs to a bird that will sell for maybe $10 or so.

For the reasons above, Recipe for America opposes NAIS as it is currently planned and administered. If an effective system were created to control the abuses of factory farms and manage risk of disease outbreaks without targetting small farmers and pet owners, we would consider supporting it.

Take Action: Call your representatives and let them know you oppose NAIS. You can also visit some of the sites listed below to find recent news about the program, including current bills you wish to call your reps about.


More information

USDA Bets the Farm on Animal ID Program (article) December 14, 2007
Animal ID Opponents Kick Like Mules (article) Cites Sen. Ag Committee Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) and House Ag Committee Chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) for their support of mandatory NAIS. March 4, 2008.
Consumer Federation of America: Mandatory Animal Tracking System Essential (news piece)
DailyKos: NAIS Punishes Small Farms for the Sins of the Large (blog entry) A detailed description of several reasons why small farmers and other animal owners (even pet owners) oppose NAIS.
DailyKos: No Chicken Left Behind (blog entry) This diary describes some of the gaps in food safety that a program like NAIS might fill as well as the flaws with NAIS that make it a poor fit for a solution.
DailyKos: Sneaky Provisions Threaten Your Food Supply (blog entry) June 17, 2007
Hallmark Meat Recall Underscores Need for Comprehensive ID Program (article) February 29, 2008.
Jim Hightower: U.S. Government's Plan to Protect You From Terrorist Livestock (article)
LATimes: Farmers Fear a Barnyard Big Brother (article) January 14, 2008. (web site) (web site)
The Nation: Old McDonald Had a Farm... and He Got Arrested? (article) November 16, 2007.
The USDA's NAIS page (web site)
War is Peace; Sickness is Life: Livestock registration, pitched by feds as voluntary, is creeping toward mandatory (article) January 22, 2008


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