Action Alert: USDA Issues New Memo

UPDATE: March 16, 2009 – Over 18,000 people submitted comments on USDA’s proposed rule to mandate NAIS premises registration for certain disease control programs.

 

In September, the USDA issued a Veterinary Services Memorandum No. 575.19 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. Click here to read the original memo dated September 22, 2008 – “Administration of Premises Identification Numbers in Veterinary Services Animal Disease Program.”

On December 22, 2008, USDA issued a new memo 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. 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 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 reassure people by re-iterating 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? This memo creates more questions than it answers.

Take Action #1: Contact Your State Agency and Legislators

Write a letter to your state agriculture department or animal health agency, asking them to respond in writing with an explanation of how they interpret the new USDA memo. Ask for a list of all of the specific events and activities, if any, that will result in a person’s property being registered in the NAIS database. Ask them if they will allow a property owner to elect not to have a standardized PIN assigned to the premises. If they will, how will that be accomplished? A sample letter is below.

Be sure to send a copy of your letter to your state representative and senator! Attach a copy of both USDA memos, and ask your state legislator to support a state bill to prevent people from being forced into NAIS against their will. You can download the memos and other government documents here.

Send a copy of your letter to your veterinarian, as well. Many vets have not even heard about these USDA memos, or are unclear about their being required to gather and report information about their clients for this program. It’s important that vets know that their clients object to NAIS!

Sample Letter to State Agency

Dear _______________ [head of the state ag or animal health department]:

I recently received a copy of two memos (attached) issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The September memo explicitly provides that any state animal health authorities are to register people’s property in the NAIS database, with or without the property owner’s permission, anytime a listed activity occurs under a listed disease control program.

While the December memo states that it revokes the September memo, the ultimate effect is unclear because the December memo still provides that a NAIS premises ID number will be issued for “all locations involved in the administration of VS animal disease program activities conducted by VS personnel.” The memo also states that “animal health officials” will collect the data needed to issue the ID number.

Then, at the very end of the new memo, a caveat is added which indicates that people might be able not to be assigned a NAIS premises identification number: “the State PIN will be issued when … the State or producer, or person responsible, for the premises elects not to have a standardized PIN issued to the premises.” What does this mean to citizens of this state? Will you allow property owners to “elect not to have a standardized PIN issued” to their property? If so, how will that be done and recorded?

The citizens of this state are entitled to know how your department intends to implement the latest memo, if at all. Please provide a written list of any and all events and activities that will result in your agency either issuing a NAIS premises ID number or providing data to the USDA that would enable the USDA to issue a NAIS premises ID number. If the answer depends on whether the activity occurs on or off the property, please specify that fact. Your written response should also clarify what use your agency, or other state authorities, will make of information submitted by veterinarians relating to their clients.

As a citizen of this state and an animal owner, I expect a prompt written response from your agency. Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.

Sincerely,
Name
Address
City, State Zip
Email address

cc: Your State Representative and Senator (with attached memos)

 

Take Action #2: Opt Out

If you think you may have been registered in NAIS, with or without your permission, you can find out by contacting your state NAIS coordinator (listed at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/contact_us/directories.shtml). You can call or, more formally, send a letter that requests them to put their response in writing. If you have been registered, follow the steps listed on the Liberty Ark website at http://www.libertyark.net/opt_out.html for how to opt out. Ask for specific clarification as to whether your property will still have a PIN assigned to its address or not.

If you were registered without your permission, write your federal and state legislators and tell them! The myth that “NAIS is voluntary” has hampered efforts to get anti-NAIS legislation passed at both the federal and the state level, and the legislators need proof that the agencies are forcing people into the program.

Excerpts From The New Memo

You can download the memo at www.farmandranchfreedom.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/aphis-pin-mandate-cancel_12-22-2008.pdf

The first three pages are mostly non-substantive. The key passages are found on the last two pages.

Page 4:
“All locations involved in the administration of VS animal disease program activities conducted by VS personnel will be identified with a standardized PIN [previously defined as the NAIS PIN]. … In general, examples of the activities for which the issuance of a standardized PIN is applicable include vaccinations for disease programs; certification programs; surveillance programs; disease investigations; or inspections of import-export locations….
The issuance of the standardized PIN will be administered as follows:

A. Animal health officials will collect the defined data fields for submission through the Emergency Management Response System (EMRS) or the Animal Health and Surveillance Management System (AHSM) interface with the allocator to obtain a PIN for the premises. The premises record processed through the EMRS, AHSM, or other VS systems will be provided to the States so the records may be added electronically to the State’s premises registration system.

B. Accredited veterinarians, while not directly involved in the issuance of the PIN, will collect the defined data fields on official disease program forms, including forms for VS National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratories, for submission to the State or Federal office in that State.”

Page 5:

“APHIS is considering rulemaking to establish the standardized PIN as the sole premises identification number, when a PIN is otherwise required or assigned. In the meantime, the State PIN will be issued in the administration of animal disease program activities when the State or producer, or person responsible, for the premises elects not to have a standardized PIN issued to the premises.”

 

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