Response to USDA’s “Guide for Small-Scale and Non-Commercial Producers”

By Judith McGeary

On June 2, 2006, USDA published a “Guide for Small-Scale and Non-Commercial Producers.” While this document is filled with feel-good statements that would lead many to think NAIS will not apply to them, it is short on substance and is not consistent with USDA’s other documents or actions.

The True Meaning of Voluntary

The previous USDA NAIS plans are still in effect. USDA has not withdrawn its 2005 Draft Plan and Strategic Standards, nor the April 2006 Strategies for Implementation. When you read all these documents together, it is clear that NAIS is not a “voluntary” program. USDA is merely spin-doctoring, using a misleading word game.

The USDA has not adopted regulations making NAIS a mandatory program at this time, but that is only a temporary situation. The 2005 Draft Plan explicitly stated that the entire program – premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking – was to become mandatory by January 2009. The 2006 Strategies document extended the timeline somewhat, but maintained that every animal owner in this country must participate: “To have a successful animal disease management program, all producers and affected industry segments will have to participate eventually.” The USDA established a January 2009 deadline to have 100% of premises registered and 100% of all animals under the age of 1 year identified, with the remainder of the program to be phased in. The USDA also stated: “If participation rates are not adequate, the development of regulations through normal rulemaking procedures will be considered to require participation in certain aspects of the program.” In other words, while there are no federal regulations at this time, USDA keeps the threat of such regulations hanging over our heads.

Even now, NAIS is not a voluntary program. USDA is driving mandatory implementation by funding state NAIS programs with tens of millions of our tax dollars. Wisconsin and Indiana have already adopted regulations making premises registration mandatory, and Wisconsin is regularly referred to as the model implementation. Texas proposed mandatory regulations and has only put those regulations “on hold” for now. States all over the country are enrolling people in the premises registration program without those individuals’ permission. And in contrast to USDA’s assertion in this Guide that there “no enforcement mechanisms or penalties,” Wisconsin’s regulations provide for revocation of licenses and penalties of up to $1,000 for failure to register, while the proposed Texas regulations included fines of up to $1,000 per day and even criminal penalties. To claim that NAIS is “voluntary” is contrary to the normal definition of this term. The USDA is redefining words in the tradition of George Orwell’s 1984.

 

Reporting Reality

The USDA’s Guide also seeks to downplay the onerous reporting requirements. Yet, as noted above, the Guide does not state that it supercedes the 2005 USDA documents, which set out the reporting requirements. The published Program Standards provided that a laundry list of “events” would have to be reported within 24 hours. Although the Guide provides a list of half a dozen specific scenarios for which reporting allegedly would not be required, these scenarios do not materially reduce the burden on small and non-commercial producers.

For example, here are two “scenarios” in the Guide that would not require reporting:

  • Moving animals between pastures on the same property.
  • Accidental animal escapes.

Problem: these two scenarios don’t shorten the long list of events that will have to be reported: the application of an ID tag, an animal’s departure from or return to the property, the loss of an ID tag or re-tagging for any reason, the slaughter or death of an animal, or a lost animal. (Draft Program Standards at p.13.)

The Guide creates one very minor exception to the list of reportable events for animals that are born on the property, never leave the property, and are taken off only for custom slaughter for personal consumption. In practical terms, this exception is meaningless. The vast majority of individuals who raise food for themselves buy young animals, such as baby chicks or weaned calves, from other sources. Maintaining a breeding herd or flock is expensive and time-consuming, and not feasible for most individuals to do just for personal consumption. Thousands of people who consider themselves “small or non-commercial” producers buy and sell animals during their lives. This scenario is only relevant for government bureaucrats who have never raised their own food.

 

Confusion and Contradiction in Guide

The USDA’s attempt to make people feel better about NAIS even leads it to contradict itself within the document. USDA states that “participation in local fairs and parades” will be exempt from reporting. But, elsewhere, USDA states that: “Reportable movements are those that involve a high risk of spreading disease, such as moving livestock from a farm to an event where a large numbers of animals are brought together from many sources.” Local fairs and parades certainly bring large numbers of animals from many sources together! Along with not raising their own food, the USDA officials have apparently also never been to a local fair.

 

Tell Congress What You Think

The USDA concludes by encouraging people to submit comments to the working groups. These industry-appointed, non-representative groups are not the solution to the problems posed by NAIS. While it may be helpful to build a record of our objections to NAIS by writing the USDA and working groups, this is not a substitute for writing Congress. Ultimately, Congress controls what the USDA can and cannot do, and it is Congress that must hear our voices: Stop NAIS now.

A more detailed, point-by-point response to USDA’s Guide is set out below.

 

Below is the text of USDA’s The National Animal Identification System: A Guide for Small-Scale or Non-Commercial Producers, released June 2, 2006. Significant passages have been underlined. Comments are in red font. Notably, the Guide does not state that it supersedes USDA’s prior documents.

 

INTRODUCTION

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a cooperative State-Federal-industry partnership to standardize animal identification programs and practices of all livestock species and poultry. NAIS is a voluntary program where producers and stakeholders are invited to participate in the program to test the system and offer feedback to help ensure that a practical, cost-effective, and reliable program is developed. Premise registration, animal identification and the reporting of animal movements are essential for the rapid tracing of animals during a disease outbreak.

The claim that NAIS is a voluntary program is completely misleading. The USDA’s 2005 Draft Strategic Plan set January 2009 as the deadline for the “entire program mandatory.” (Plan at p.2.) While the USDA recently extended that timeline a little, it has not changed the substance. USDA’s 2006 Implementation Plan states: “This NAIS implementation strategy provides the opportunity for the stakeholders to take a proactive approach to achieve full industry participation in the NAIS. If the marketplace, along with State and Federal identification programs, does not provide adequate incentives for achieving complete participation, USDA may be required to implement regulations. … If participation rates are not adequate, the development of regulations through normal rulemaking procedures will be considered to require participation in certain aspects of the program.” (Implementation Plan at p.3.) The USDA then states that the goal is 100% participation. In other words, NAIS will be voluntary only so long as 100% of livestock animal owners comply. If everyone does not “voluntarily” sign up, USDA will make it mandatory.

Further, USDA is providing federal tax dollars to states and private companies to implement NAIS. Several states have already adopted, or proposed adopting, mandatory premises registration and even mandatory animal identification. The USDA is paying the states to create a mandatory program while avoiding responsibility.

USDA encourages all producers to participate in NAIS. However, USDA is sensitive to the challenges faced by small-scale or non-commercial producers. In recognition of these challenges, USDA has developed this document to better explain what this program is and is not. USDA continues to seek and receive feedback and recommendations from all producers as we determine, along with States and industry, how we will proceed with the system. We encourage stakeholders to make suggestions about NAIS by contacting the working group(s) for the species of animal(s) they raise. The working group information is on the left side of the NAIS Web page (www.usda.gov/nais); under “Browse by Audience” click the “Select a Working Group” dropdown button. Stakeholders can also submit comments to a particular working group via e-mail at animalidcomments@aphis.usda.gov. Please include the species name and the term “working group” in the subject line of your e-mail.

The USDA and its corporate agribusiness partners have essentially shut the private citizen out of the development of NAIS. The program was initially developed by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture, a trade organization dominated by the largest agriculture companies and technology companies. Only after years of planning by these entities was a plan published, and the public allowed to comment on it in 2005. Even then, the vast majority of affected individuals were unaware of NAIS and therefore provided no comments.

The working groups are self-appointed industry representatives. The associations who have seats on the groups have not informed their membership of the issues nor provided their members with the opportunity to vote on the issues. If the associations are not even interested in listening to their members, the general public clearly cannot expect that their comments will be heeded.

A key indicator of the lack of public participation is found on page 7 of the USDA Draft Strategic Plan, where they indicated that they only had 60 total comments in their nationwide Listening Sessions in 2004, with only one opposing comment. Obviously, these were staged presentations, with very limited notice to the public. In contrast, when the Texas Animal Health Commission proposed mandatory premises registration in Texas, there were almost 700 written comments submitted, with the vast majority opposing NAIS. At the public hearing on the proposed regulations, 80 people commented in person, the vast majority again opposing NAIS. When the public finds out what NAIS is really about, they are opposed.

 

PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS

  • The purpose of the NAIS is to protect U.S. agriculture by enhancing our emergency response capabilities. The system will enable us to address urgent animal health concerns as quickly and effectively as possible.
  • Participation in the NAIS is voluntary. First and foremost, USDA wants to build a cooperative system that is valuable to all producers and that producers want to be a part of. There are no enforcement mechanisms or penalties related to the NAIS.

“Participation is voluntary” only in the present tense. According to their own documents, USDA plans on making NAIS mandatory. There are already enforcement mechanisms and penalties relating to premises registration – the first stage of NAIS – in Wisconsin and Indiana.

  • Household pets (e.g., cats and dogs) are not covered by the NAIS.

This is true, at this time. But the same technology companies who are supporting NAIS also support proposed regulations to “standardize” microchip technology for cats and dogs. Moreover, NAIS does cover many animals people consider pets: horses, pot-bellied pigs, miniature goats, and birds.

  • The NAIS covers only cattle and bison, cervids (e.g., deer and elk); goats; horses; camelids (e.g., llamas and alpacas); poultry; sheep; and swine.

These generalizations hide the fact that it would require the owner of ONE chicken, duck, goose, pig, goat, sheep, cow, or horse to register the property where the animal is kept, and “participate” in all other NAIS requirements. The term “poultry” may also include exotic fowl such as parakeets, canaries, parrots, peacocks, guinea fowl, etc.

  • The focus of NAIS is animal health, primarily within the commercial animal production sector in which animals move from their birthplace to a subsequent location(s) over the animal’s life cycle. USDA’s NAIS efforts will largely focus on commercial operations and animals at such locations due to their higher risk of spreading diseases among multiple locations and for greater distances.

While this sounds reassuring, it is effectively meaningless. What does “focus” mean? USDA has consistently stated that 100% of producers must participate in NAIS, including small farmers, ranchers, companion animal owners, etc.

  • USDA encourages all owners of animals covered by the NAIS to register their premises.
  • In all States, premises registration is currently free.

The critical word in this section is “currently.” There is certainly no guarantee that premises registration will continue to be free. Indeed, the Texas Animal Health Commission proposed a $10 annual fee in its regulations, and it is probable that other agencies will propose fees as the states make NAIS mandatory. Entering information on millions of premises and maintaining the databases will require both equipment and employees, and someone will have to pay those costs.

Animal identification and tracking:

  • If your animals never leave the farm of birth or are only moved for custom slaughter for personal consumption, you will not be asked to identify them or report their movement.

This might be true, although such an exemption is not included in USDA’s 2005 Draft Strategic Plan or 2006 NAIS Implementation Plan. But even if true, this exemption is almost useless. Anyone who buys an animal (chick, duckling, lamb, colt, calf, etc.) will have to fully participate in NAIS, as the animal will have to have an Animal Identification Number (AIN) before it ever arrives at their property. AINs must be linked in the database to a PIN, so importing an animal with an AIN requires you register your premises even if you didn’t need to previously. There are no exemptions in USDA’s plan that would allow an animal with an AIN to be withdrawn from NAIS while it is still alive. Animal owners will have to maintain their animal’s information in NAIS for as long as they own the animal.

The vast majority of individuals who raise food for themselves buy young animals, such as baby chicks or weaned calves, from other sources. Maintaining a breeding herd or flock is expensive and time-consuming, and not feasible for most individuals to do just for personal consumption. Thousands of people who consider themselves “small or non-commercial” producers buy and sell animals during their lives. This scenario is only relevant for government bureaucrats who have never raised their own food.

  • Animal owners who choose to participate in the animal identification and tracking components of the NAIS, are not expected to report all animal movements. For instance, taking your animal on a trail ride with a neighbor or moving livestock from pasture to pasture within your operation pose a low risk of spreading disease, and therefore, are not reportable.

This statement belies the fact that many “trail rides” involve far more than a “ride with a neighbor.” Many trail rides include many more animals than this statement indicates. In Texas, some annual trail rides include at least 350 owners, with several animals per owner, lasting several days and covering many miles.

Moreover, the current recommendations from the Equine Species Working Group state: “When horses are transported interstate, intrastate when commingled with other horses or livestock, or to premises or events where a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) or other equine health papers such as Coggins are required, the movement must be reported to the appropriate USDA NAIS database(s).” (Recommendation #10) In most states, a Coggins is required to take a horse almost anywhere, including a “trail ride with a neighbor.” USDA urges people to trust the working groups to provide species-specific recommendations, but then makes claims contrary to those recommendations.

  • Reportable movements are those that involve a high risk of spreading disease, such as moving livestock from a farm to an event where a large numbers of animals are brought together from many sources.

One person’s “large numbers” is another person’s neighborhood gathering. Since USDA has failed to provide specific examples, we have much to fear from their eventual rulemaking. Even then, we have more to fear, because rules, once implemented, are frequently changed with little notice. This requires permanent vigilance. Having to watch over Big Brother who is watching us will distract from everyday life, and be ridiculously burdensome for private owners of animals.

  • USDA will not track animals in real-time. USDA has no interest in knowing where animals are all of the time. Data concerning animal movements and locations will be held in multiple, secure databases managed by private organizations and state animal health authorities.

USDA’s plan clearly requires animal owners to report movements, deaths, and sales of animals to the NAIS database within 24 hours. The fact that USDA is trying to move this requirement to a private and/or state databases is meaningless, in that owners will still be required to report such incidents and movements into a federally mandated database, which will be open to federal access for “exercises” or federally declared “emergencies” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

  • USDA will only request animal identification data to respond to an animal disease outbreak or other emerging animal health concern.

USDA’s current plan calls for requiring animal owners to provide data on their premises and animals to privately owned and operated databases. USDA plans on having portals built into the system, so that it can have access to the data in case it needs or wants it. But the USDA also says that it must make sure that the system is operable. To do this, USDA will conduct “exercises” to access the data. (Sraft Plan, p.3 & 22.) Each time USDA accesses the databases, all the data in the accessed system can be uploaded to the USDA computer system. That data on private citizens will then be in the hands of the Federal Government. There are no guarantees about how such data will be used, especially since there is no statute that authorizes the system. Nothing stops the USDA from using the information however it wants to, including providing it to other government agencies.

Also, whoever owns and operates the databases will have access to the data. There are no guarantees that the companies and associations operating the databases will not use that information for improper commercial purposes.

  • USDA fully recognizes that NAIS must be practical and affordable for all sectors of agriculture.

USDA has never done a cost/benefit analysis of their proposal. In other countries, cost estimates have ranged from $37/head to $69/head. Yet without bothering to analyze the costs, the USDA has already spent over $80 million of our tax dollars to promote the program.

  • For producers who choose to obtain official identification numbers/devices for their animals, the costs would vary depending on the number of animals and type of identification used. Some livestock are already identified as part of ongoing disease control programs, and USDA is working to incorporate those existing ID systems into the NAIS to minimize or eliminate any further costs to producers.

This statement is inconsistent with the USDA’s documents and what is happening already. The USDA’s Draft Program Standards specified that cattle should be identified with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices in their ears. (Draft Program Standards at p.20) The Equine Species Working Group (ESWG) has recommended that horses be identified with RFIDs implanted under the skin of the neck. ESWG Recommendation, Recommendation #13 (May 24, 2005).

Moreover, the Michigan Department of Agriculture has notified farmers and ranchers that they will have to have RFID tags on their cattle to move them, as of March 2007. No other form of identification will be allowed. While Michigan claims this action is pursuant to their tuberculosis program, the USDA has given Michigan a large grant to develop electronic identification for NAIS.

The statement “For producers who choose to obtain official identification numbers/devices for their animals, …” is misleading. As discussed at the beginning of this article, USDA fully intends to make NAIS a mandatory system. Producers will not be allowed to “choose to obtain official identification numbers/devices for their animals.” Instead, they will be forced to obtain those numbers and devices, under threat of prosecution by the agency imposing those requirements in their state.

  • Animal tracking databases will be privately held; we anticipate that producers who voluntarily choose to participate in the animal tracking component of NAIS will have various options and that competition between databases will help keep costs down.

What does the USDA base this anticipation on? Given the large corporate interests involved, it is far more likely that there will be no real competition and individuals will be at the mercy of private industry, without even the choice to “opt out” because of the government mandate. Competition has certainly not kept prices down among oil companies, for example.

Indeed, the industry is already positioning itself to prevent real competition. In January of this year, several associations joined together to form the United States Animal Identification Organization (USAIO) to manage the “industry-led animal movement database.” The USAIO board of directors is made up of representatives from the Southeastern Livestock Network, the Northwest Pilot Project, the National Bison Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the American Farm Bureau. These groups will effectively have a lock on the market.

  • USDA is not mandating what technique or device should be used to identify animals. Appropriate means of identifying animals vary by species. What works for one species may not work for another. This is a decision best left to the producers themselves.

The USDA’s Draft Program Standards specified that cattle should be identified with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices in their ears. (Draft Program Standards at p.20) The Equine Species Working Group (ESWG) has recommended that horses be identified with RFIDs implanted under the skin of the neck. ESWG Recommendation, Recommendation #13 (May 24, 2005).

  • Group/Lot ID is an option for animals that move as a group through the production chain (i.e., groups of pigs or chickens). USDA recognizes that tagging every individual animal is not always practical.

Yet the USDA has defined group/lot identification in a manner that is only useful to large commercial producers. The Draft Program Standards provide that group ID may be used when animals are managed together from birth to death and not commingled with other animals. (Draft Program Standards at p.5-6). This exactly describes how confinement poultry and swine operations manage their animals, where the animals are contained in large buildings and are processed through like an assembly line. But very few small farmers manage their poultry or swine in such isolated units and will be forced to tag every chicken, turkey, goose, duck, and guinea. This will dramatically increase the cost of tagging, handling, and record keeping for the small operator and pet owners.

  • The primary purpose of the NAIS is to enable rapid animal tracing and disease containment in the case of an animal disease outbreak or other emerging animal health concern among U.S. livestock and poultry. USDA will only request data and combine information from the databases when animal health officials need information to respond to such a disease outbreak or emerging animal health concern.

This reassurance is not present in any statute or enforceable form. Moreover, even if true, it does not lessen the burden on animal owners who must file (and pay for) numerous reports.

Moreover, this claim does not survive close inspection. The USDA has repeatedly admitted that one of the main reasons for NAIS is to improve our export market. While they have attempted to claim that this will benefit everyone, a mandatory program will benefit only those companies who actually sell the meat overseas; these companies will not need to pay the farmers and ranchers, who will bear the cost and burden of the program, for their work.

Second, the reassurance of the privacy of the data is illusory. NAIS will not prevent the private database operators from misusing our information. Moreover, since USDA will access the databases during “exercises,” that information will be just as vulnerable as any other federal database. Remember the recent theft of critical personal information on 26 million veterans from Veterans Affairs? The government has repeatedly proven that it cannot protect our private information.

 

GUIDANCE FOR NON-COMMERCIAL PRODUCER PARTICIPANTS

The NAIS participation guidelines for small, non-commercial producers is based on how they manage (move, market, etc.) animals and the associated risk of disease exposure and spread.

This “Guidance” has never appeared in any other USDA publication which we have seen. At best, it is an attempt by USDA to placate the rising anger of those animal owners they have ignored. At worst, it is a poorly crafted attempt to deceive those animal owners into incorrectly believing that USDA has their best interest at heart.

Definition of Non-Commercial Producer

Under the NAIS, the following criteria describe non-commercial producers:

  1. Individuals whose animals are not moved to auction barns or from their location to those of commercial producers.
  2. Individuals whose animal movements are limited to those moved directly to custom slaughter; movement within a single producer’s premises; local fairs and local 4-H events.

These “descriptions” are meaningless. The USDA does not say that it is exempting such non-commercial producers as a group. Indeed, the specific exemptions from reporting stated below indicate precisely the opposite – non-commercial producers will be subject to NAIS except for very limited (effectively meaningless) exceptions.

 

Guidance for Non-Commercial Producers Premises Registration:

USDA encourages, but does not require, all livestock and poultry owners to register their premises with the animal health authority in their State, regardless of the size of their operations or the number of animals present at the facility.

Voluntary registration of premises does not obligate producers to identify their animals or to report the premises-to-premises movement of their animals.

Animal diseases can affect producers of all sizes. Swift moving, highly contagious diseases such as highly pathogenic avian influenza and exotic Newcastle disease can harm small-scale producers as much as large-scale producers. Diseases can spread through a variety of sources — human contact, tainted food or water supplies, insects, airborne viruses, or migratory birds — and the number of animals, their source(s), the location of the event, and the health status and certification of animals all influence the potential for disease spread.

This misleading statement has been repeated often, as if repetition could make it true. It is well-established in the medical literature, as well as agency reports, that the spread of disease depends in large part on how the animals are kept. Thus, large confinement operations are very susceptible to avian viruses. During the Exotic Newcastle Disease outbreak in California, for example, the American Veterinary Medical Association noted that the “virus can be spread by vaccination and beak trimming crews, manure handlers, and poultry farm employees. It can also survive for several weeks in a warm, humid environment on birds’ feathers, manure, and other materials.” Confinement poultry operations, in which the animals are debeaked and housed with thousands of other birds in a building, are clearly ideal conditions for the spread of the disease.

USDA fails to mention one of the primary carriers of animal diseases … animal caretaker workers and Animal Health Inspectors. If animal owners would keep both those types of people, who have a much higher risk of coming in contact with sick animals, off their property, then the risk of their animals getting infected would be much smaller. Also, by not participating in NAIS, an animal owner has a much better chance of avoiding having their healthy animals slaughtered just because a bureaucrat drew an artificial circle on a map and mandated that all animals of a certain species/family within that circle be “depopulated.” “Depopulated” is the word bureaucrats use to mean that they will slaughter every animal they target, even before it has tested positive for a disease.

 

Animal Identification and Reporting Animal Movements:

Scenarios that would not call for animals to be identified and/or movements reported in the NAIS include:

− animals that never leave the farm/location of birth;

It is extraordinarily rare for an animal to be born on a property, never leave it, and die on it.

− animals moved from their birth premises directly to custom slaughter for personal use of the animal’s owner;

This scenario is almost equally rare. It is expensive and difficult to maintain breeding herds and flocks. The overwhelming majority of people who raise animals for their own food buy young animals from some other source, whether it is a neighbor, a local feed store, or the local auction barn. People who have the resources to maintain breeding herds and flocks almost always sell young animals and/or sell meat for others’ consumption.

The vast majority of animal owners, including those raising their own food, buy animals from others to start, replenish, or improve their herds and flocks and to obtain pets. Once NAIS is in operation, every one of these animals will have to be labeled with an Animal Identification Number (AIN) before leaving its birthplace. There is no procedure for those animals to be removed from NAIS, except when they die. Therefore, all purchasers must participate in NAIS.

− livestock moved from pasture-to-pasture within one’s operation;

This scenario is consistent with the USDA’s prior documents, surprisingly. Yet why should it even be an issue? Was the USDA considering forcing people to report every time they simply move animals to another pasture? Shall we now be grateful that we won’t have to file reports in order to rotate our animals on our own property?

− participation in local fairs and parades;

Not only does the USDA fail to define “local,” but this scenario is inconsistent with both the USDA’s other documents, the working groups’ recommendations, and even the rest of this Guidance document. The USDA’s Draft Plan called for reporting anytime animals are commingled, as does the Equine Species Working Group’s recommendations. Moreover, just two pages earlier in this document, USDA states that “Reportable movements are those that involve a high risk of spreading disease, such as moving livestock from a farm to an event where a large numbers of animals are brought together from many sources.” Local fairs and parades certainly bring large numbers of animals from many sources together. So what exactly does USDA plan to do?

− the local trading of birds among private individuals; and

This is a very confusing claim. Does the USDA mean that people who trade 3 chickens for 5 guinea hens are exempt from reporting? But if you sell one bird to your neighbor? If selling is covered by the word “trading,” what if a private individual who owns a confinement operation with 6,000 birds sells them to another individually-owned confinement operation?

− animals that “get out” and cross over into the neighbor’s land.

Presumably, this is meant to clarify that the requirement to report every time an animal is moved onto or off of a premises refers only to intentional movements. If true, it is of some use. But, like the “exemption” for movements within one’s own property, the true question is why should this even be an issue? Is this the magnitude of the latitude that USDA is prepared to offer people – that they don’t have to report every time their chicken flies over the fence?

Also, animals used for recreational purposes do not need to be identified if they are permanently cared for at their birth premises. Taking your animal on a trail ride with a neighbor would not be a reportable movement.

Comprehensive recommendations for identifying animals and reporting movements are in development in cooperation with the species-specific working groups and State-Federal animal health authorities.

This essentially boils down to “Trust us to develop a good program.” But the very fact that this propaganda sheet has been issued, with the obvious intent of deceiving people as to the nature of NAIS, shows that we cannot trust USDA.

 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR NON-COMMERCIAL PRODUCERS

Most of the questions and answers address the same issues discussed above. Rather than repeat the points and counterpoints, we have deleted the repetitive portions.

4. Why should horses be included in NAIS?
NAIS is intended for use in responding to any highly contagious animal health concern among U.S. livestock and poultry. Horses can be infected with and transmit diseases of interest such as streptococcus equi (strangeles), equine infectious anemia (swamp fever), rhinopneumonitis (Herpes II), salmonellosis, and vesicular stomatitis, among many other diseases. NAIS could allow USDA to quickly contain and eradicate a disease before it spreads outside a given area.

These statements do not answer the question. All of these diseases are well-controlled by current methods, including such things as Coggins testing and interstate health certificates. Simply pointing to a list of diseases is not justification for the burdens imposed by NAIS.

6. How could someone’s backyard animals be a “risk” to others?
Even animals that never leave the farm or have contact with other animals are at risk for catching and transmitting disease. Having a small number of animals can put you at risk of being impacted by a disease outbreak. Recent situations such as the 2002-2003 outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in U.S. poultry show that backyard animals can serve as reservoirs for disease and contribute to disease spread. Thus, premises registration would help to reduce the risk of disease in backyard flocks.

This is another myth that USDA apparently believes will become truth if repeated often enough. The Exotic Newcastle Disease outbreak in California was started and spread by cockfighting flocks. (R. Scott Nolen, Exotic Newcastle Disease Strikes Game Birds in California, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association News (Nov. 15, 2002)) Cockfighting is illegal in California and the roosters were smuggled in from Mexico. (See News Release, Texas Animal Health Commission (Jan. 1, 2003) (“END likely was initially introduced into Southern California through illegal importation of infected birds.”); Congressman Elton Gallegly, Smuggling Cockfighting Roosters a Conduit to Bird Flu, Santa Barbara News-Press (Dec. 11, 2005).

7. What does the government plan to do with NAIS information? Who will use or have access to the NAIS data?
First, USDA will not be “tracking” animals in real-time. USDA has no interest in where all animals are all of the time. In fact, NAIS is designed in a way that ensures this will not happen. The information concerning animal movement and location data will be held in multiple, secure databases managed by private organizations and state animal health authorities. USDA will only request data and combine information from the databases when animal health officials need information to respond to an animal disease outbreak or other emerging animal health concern. This limitation will be explicitly outlined in the cooperative agreements with private database owners.

Yet the stated goal of NAIS is to be able to provide traceback of all animal movements within 48 hours. In order to achieve that, people will have to file reports within 24 hours. Whether USDA reviews all of these reports at all times does not change the burden on the animal owners.

11. Will NAIS require that all livestock animals be microchipped?
No. The rumor that USDA will require all animals — ranging from livestock to chicks — to have microchips is false.

With regard to the question of how an animal could be identified (i.e., ear tag, tattoo, microchip, leg-banding), USDA has remained neutral. On this point, we respect the needs of different producers and different species groups. We recognize that such questions should not be answered for producers; instead, such questions would best be resolved by producers themselves.

For more information about providing input to the NAIS species-specific working groups, see the introduction at the top of this document.

The USDA has not remained neutral on the issue of the technology. The USDA’s Draft Program Standards specified that cattle should be identified with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) devices in their ears. (Draft Program Standards at p.20) The Equine Species Working Group (ESWG) has recommended that horses be identified with RFIDs implanted under the skin of the neck. ESWG Recommendation, Recommendation #13 (May 24, 2005).

As for chickens, the suggestion of a leg band borders on absurd. Under the USDA Draft Program Standards, animal identification tags must meet the following requirements: (1) bear the entire 15-digit number; (2) be designed for one-time use; (3) may not be readily altered; (4) the animal identification number must be easily and reliably readable; and (5) the tag must have the U.S. Shield imprinted. (USDA Draft Program Standards at p.7.) A chicken’s leg band cannot accommodate a 15-digit number unless it was in unreadably small print. While people might not be forced to microchip their chickens, leg bands cannot meet NAIS requirements. The Maryland NAIS coordinator sent an email indicating that one option was to pierce the necks of day old chicks, and have a tag hanging off the side of the necks. Aside from the practical difficulties, this “solution” would harm the health of our animals, in the name of being able to track them. How is this in the best interests of animal health?

12. Will NAIS require that all animals to be tagged individually?
No. USDA realizes that tagging each and every animal individually would be unrealistic and impractical. Group/lot ID is an option for both large- and small-scale producers, depending on the circumstances, such as animals that move as a group through the production chain (e.g., groups of pigs or chickens). If a producer chooses to participate in the voluntary animal identification system for a group of animals and utilizes the group/lot identification method and later removes an animal from the group, that animal should then be identified individually. However, this would be the case with animals from any size
farming operation, large or small.

Yet the USDA has defined group/lot identification in a manner that is only useful to large commercial producers. The Draft Program Standards provide that group ID may be used when animals are managed together from birth to death and not commingled with other animals. (Draft Program Standards at p.5-6). This exactly describes how confinement poultry and swine operations manage their animals, where the animals are contained in large buildings and are processed through like an assembly line. But very few small farmers manage their poultry or swine in such isolated units and will be forced to tag every chicken, turkey, goose, duck, and guinea. This will dramatically increase the cost of tagging, handling, and record keeping for the small operator and pet owners.

13. Will NAIS put many small-scale producers out of business?
No. USDA believes strongly that small farms have an integral role in our country’s system of agriculture. USDA fully recognizes that NAIS must be practical and affordable for all sectors of agriculture. This continues to be a priority for USDA as we work with State officials and producers to develop the system in greater detail.

The USDA has done no analysis of the costs, and has even admitted that it cannot estimate the costs to producers at this time. How can USDA possibly claim to know that NAIS won’t be too expensive for producers? We all know that technology is not free, nor is labor. The costs of the tags are just the beginning. What about the labor and equipment to tag every animal? The readers to track the numbers? The computers to file the reports? The people to do data entry on the millions of reports? The databases to store and manage those same millions of reports? The technology companies and entities running the databases will expect to make a profit, and it is the producers and consumers who will pay the price.

In other countries, cost estimates have ranged from $37 per head to as high as $69 per head. (See Submission to the Queensland Government Relating to the National Livestock Identification System Regulatory Impact Study at p.18-19).

16. What about individuals’ religious freedoms?
As we make progress with developing NAIS, USDA is sensitive to individuals’ religious beliefs. On this topic, many individuals have provided comments to USDA and expressed concerns about the use of certain technologies, such as computers. USDA recognizes these concerns. We are respectful of these beliefs and are committed to ensuring that workable options are available to religious communities. Again, NAIS is a voluntary program; those who have objections to the program are not required to participate.

Again, USDA’s claims that this program is voluntary are misleading, at best. Wisconsin’s regulations, which establish mandatory premises registration, make no exceptions for religious objectors. Neither did the proposed regulations in Texas. USDA has repeatedly stated that 100% participation is necessary, yet there are many religious objectors. Moreover, the objections are not limited to the use of specific technologies; some individuals have religious objections to the tagging and tracking, irrespective of the technology.

17. How is NAIS supposed to protect food safety? Isn’t testing rather than tracking of livestock more effective in ensuring food safety?
The purpose of NAIS is not food safety. The United States already has a comprehensive system of food safety policies, testing, and inspection requirements in place to ensure the safety of our products. The primary purpose of the NAIS is to enable rapid animal tracing and disease containment in the case of an animal disease outbreak or other emerging animal health concern among U.S. livestock and poultry. The need for a uniform national animal identification system is warranted to enhance our animal disease programs and ensure that we have the response capabilities necessary to address urgent animal health concerns—as quickly and effectively as possible. Maintaining the health of the national herd supports consumer confidence that the food supply is safe.

In other words, USDA is admitting that this program will not increase food safety. USDA just hopes that it will make consumers think that their food is safer. How does this justify the burdens imposed by NAIS?

Why not put our resources into programs that will increase food safety, such as testing and better meat processing inspections? Why not ensure that the countries from which we import meat do not introduce disease onto our shores? Just who is USDA really helping?