Testimony Before the House Committee on Agriculture

House Committee on Agriculture and Livestock

HB 461, Committee Substitute, relating to prohibiting mandatory participation in an animal identification system

February 27, 2007

My name is Judith McGeary, and I am the Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. FARFA supports the committee substitute of HB 461. We strongly believe that NAIS should not be a mandatory program in Texas, nor should anyone be coerced into it.

The proponents of NAIS have provided only general claims that NAIS is necessary for animal health. They have provided no scientific studies supporting the design of NAIS, particularly their claims that the program requires 100% participation to be effective for disease control. Supporters of NAIS argue that small facilities are as susceptible to disease as are large facilities, but this is wholly unsupported by scientific evidence or practical experience.

Basic epidemiological principles establish that disease is most likely to occur, spread rapidly, and mutate to higher pathogenic forms in high-density populations. Small, low-density operations, while not immune to disease, pose a lower risk. The level of risk also varies based on the different species of animals and different diseases. Horses, chickens, pigs, goats, llamas, bison, and elk each pose different issues than do cattle. An effective disease control program would not simply treat all “livestock animals” and all diseases the same.

Neither the USDA nor the TAHC has done a cost analysis, but it is clear that the costs will far exceed the $2-3 per animal that is frequently quoted. That estimate addresses only the basic tag, not the labor costs to the animal owners, the costs of establishing and maintaining databases, the cost of the equipment for scanning the tags, nor the ongoing costs of reporting.

Estimates of costs of similar programs in other countries range from $37 per animal to $69 per animal. These are just averages – depending on the number of animals and the number of movements that need to be reported, costs for some individuals will be even higher. Texas has approximately 14 million cattle, 1 million sheep, 1 million goats, and 1 million horses. NAIS could cost Texas animal owners, consumers, and taxpayers hundreds of millions, or even over a billion, dollars.

Costs are not merely monetary. The plans for NAIS have not addressed individuals’ concerns over the government intrusion into their privacy and the burden on property rights. Never before in the history of our country has a person had to report to the state and federal government simply because he or she owns animals. The later stages of the program would require people to report a long list of events to a government-accessible database. Animals do not move themselves, so such reporting translates into reporting the owners’ movements and activities.

What will we get in return for these costs? On a practical level, there will almost certainly be significant technological problems. The Australian version of NAIS, for cattle, has suffered from repeated problems with the databases, including 11 million phantom cattle. An Australian cattleman told FARFA that, in the year since their electronic tracking program was implemented, he has never gotten completely correct information from the database.

He has had animals listed in the database that were not his; he has been unable to find animals that he owns that should have been in the database; and the factual information about the animals has frequently been incorrect. Australia has approximately 27 million cattle, compared with the approximately 100 million cattle in the US and the 14 million cattle in Texas alone. Moreover, NAIS would include dozens of other species as well. If the Australian databases have had such significant problems, what can we expect from NAIS if it is implemented here?

We already have mechanisms for tracking animals. The government should be able to show clear benefits to be gained before proposing a new, expensive and intrusive program.

Some of the proponents of NAIS have argued that USDA will implement NAIS if the states don’t do it. But USDA has stated that NAIS is, and will remain, voluntary at the federal level. Moreover, even if USDA were to change its mind, it lacks statutory authority to mandate NAIS. There have been multiple bills introduced in Congress to provide such authority, but none have passed. These repeated failures to adopt legislation indicate that Congress may never actually do so. And should NAIS ever be made mandatory at any level, it will most likely be challenged in the courts on multiple constitutional grounds.

There is a growing public outcry against NAIS across the country, making it less and less likely that national action will ever be taken. Ten other states have proposed bills that would limit NAIS to a voluntary program or abolish it completely. There is no reason for Texas to make decisions based on what the federal government might possibly due in the future – we need to make decisions about what is best for Texas.

Looking at the specific provisions of the Committee substitute of HB 461, FARFA supports the provisions for full disclosure, the right to withdraw, and the non-discrimination clause. These provisions are critical to creating a truly voluntary program. Participation based on false information, lack of informed consent, and an inability to withdraw from the program is not voluntary. Similarly, for those who have been told that they must register or else they cannot participate in 4-H, sell at a local sales barn, or do other animal-related activities, the program is not truly voluntary.

There are many more cost-effective and less intrusive means to address livestock diseases. I urge you to vote in favor of HB 461, and allow Texans to choose to spend their money and their time on measures that will truly improve animal health.

Judith McGeary
Executive Director
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance