BURLEY -- The enormity of tagging and electronically tracking every animal in the United States hit
home to livestock owner and 4-H Club leader Maria Brown recently when her Cassia County extension office informed her that
4-H steers in the county would be required to have radio frequency identification/electronic identification (RFID/EID) tags
Another surprise, she said, was when the extension office asked if she had registered her "premises" (farm,ranch,acreage)
with the state.
Brown's experience is what farm animal and poultry owners across the nation can come to expect in the
next few years as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) becomes a reality. Also
known as the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP), the USDA is behind the "farm to fork" tracing system that allows governmental
tracking of animals from birth to slaughter.
In light of concerns about tracking disease outbreaks, the USDA claims
that new technology will be utilized to replace outdated tracing techniques, such as branding, tattooing, and ear tagging.
Recent attempts at utilizing bar codes on cattle didn't fare well because the codes are often hard to read and the lifespan
of bar codes are relatively short, reported the USDA in recent studies.
"I knew the program was out there," Brown said.
"But I didn't really think about the impact it could have." Like Brown, many owners of small non-commercial farm acreage (i.e.
hobby farms, mini-farms and recreational animal owners) remain curious as to what the program is and exactly who will fall
under its scope.
NAIS is a combination brainchild of the USDA and the National Institute for Animal Agriculture whose
corporate members include Cargill Meat Solutions, Monsanto Company, pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough and the National
Pork Producers Council. In 2002, the USDA, through the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) began drafting standards
and a strategic plan to develop a "48-hour trace-back" system to stop any outbreaks of animal disease -- such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob's
disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy.Idaho is one of many states to sign on and is fully
engaged in the first goal of NAIS -- premises identification. With voluntary sign up sparse, the Idaho State Department of
Agriculture brought alongside Global Animal Management (GAM), a data collection company. According to ISDA records, GAM has
"successfully extracted data from Idaho's brand database," which resulted in 13,907 unique premises identification numbers."
brand owner, Brown questions tactics of a "voluntary" program that has assigned more than 13,000 brand owners premises ID
However, the proposed plan will make premises and animal identification mandatory with enforcement in January,
2008. By January 2009, the NAIS strategic plan says the system will be "fully implemented with all components mandatory" including
"enforcement for the reporting of animal movement."
As a 4-H leader and horse enthusiast, Brown says reporting animals
going from one premises to another is a logistical nightmare. "Between March and August I would have over 1,100 incidences
of animals coming and going (that) I would have to report on," she said.
But John Chatburn, ISDA animal industries
deputy administrator, said ultimately that (that) may not be the case.
"The USDA has not put out the regulations yet,
only the draft," he said. "There are a lot of things about this that are still up in the air."
That concerns legislative
and computer systems analyst Vicky Davis of Idaho Falls.
"This is a snowballing Big Brother program," she said. "It
will turn animal ownership into a privilege, not a right."
Davis said it could eventually lead to a plethora of mandatory
health exams, vaccinations and how and where animals are kept.
"You have to look at it long-range to see how intrusive
it is," she said.
Jason Ahola, University of Idaho beef extension specialist, said it is important to remember that
the plan is only a proposal at this point.
"We don't have answers to some of the specifics," he said. "At this point
there are a lot of unknowns about who will pay for the equipment and how all animal movement will be recorded."
said there is a lot of misinformation "out there."
However, Mary Zanoni, a Cornell University attorney, notded numerous
specifics in her recent analysis of the NAIS proposed standards and strategic plan.
"The 'premises' that the Department
(USDA) plans to subject to global positioning system (GPS) surveillance and distance radio-frequency readings are the homes
of these tens of millions of citizens," she said. "What the department is proposing is enormously intrusive surveillance against
unsuspecting innocent citizens who have done nothing more that to own an animal which is a common form of personal property
under our American system of law."
In light of what Zanoni says arre "numerous and insurmountable flaws" in the proposed
plan, the USDA should "carefully consider alternative methods that would be much more successful in accomplishing its stated
Brown prefers a voluntary rather than a mandatory program.
"Let those who benefit from it be the
ones to use it," she said.
Cathy Roemer lives in Jerome and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
|NAIS will prohibit any person from:|
* removing an identification device
* causing the removal of an identification
* Applying a second identification device, altering an identification device to change its number
an identification device to make its number unreadable,
* Selling or providing an unauthorized identification device
Creating a counterfeit identification device
|NAIS proposed rules|
Animal owners must report within 24 hours:
* any missing animal
* any missing
* sale of an animal
* death of an animal
* slaughter of an animal
* movement of an animal
off the farm or homestead
* movement of an animal on the farm or homestead
|Timeline for National Animal Identification System|
April 2007 -- Alert livestock owners of the NAIS requirements
of 2007 -- Final rules published governing home and animal surveillance
January 2008 -- Premises registration enforced
2008 -- Animal identification required and enforced
January 2009 -- Required reporting of all animal movements enforced