National Animal ID: What the Feds Can’t Do, the States Well Might
by Judith McGeary
This article slated for publication in the March 2007 issue of Acres USA. Please do not copy or republish without permission from the author.
The National Animal Identification System: a plan to force everyone who owns even one animal to register with the government, tag each animal, and report their movements. Agri-business and technology companies developed this plan in the late 1980s and 1990s in relative secrecy, but average animal owners only started to become aware of the issue in 2005, after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a formal draft plan. Opposition grew rapidly, and the Feds started to look for a way to avoid the responsibility. So, in November 2006, the USDA announced that the program was voluntary at the federal level. This move wasn’t a surrender – at the same time, the USDA announced it would continue to provide States with funds to implement the program and that it wanted 100% participation by 2009. So we now face a 50-state battleground.
The results to date have been a patchwork of developments across the country. This article will provide updates on states where there have been significant developments as of January. The legislative and regulatory processes often move slowly, but are interspersed by rapidly moving events. Those wanting to take action at critical moments should sign up for email alerts at www.farmandranchfreedom.org or www.libertyark.net, or develop a local phone tree.
Good News: States That Have Introduced Bills to Stop NAIS
Half a dozen states kicked off their legislative sessions by introducing bills to stop or severely limit NAIS. Below is a short discussion of each bill. The grassroots activists and courageous legislators who made these bills a reality deserve a lot of credit! Simply getting such bills introduced marks a new phase in the fight against NAIS that was only a dream one short year ago. But it is a long road between introducing bills and getting them made into law: committee hearings, floor votes in both the House and Senate, and avoiding a Governor’s veto. These bills, and any others introduced, will need all a lot of public support if we are to succeed. If you are not yet active in fighting NAIS, now is the time to start!
The substance of each bill differs and is based on the unique circumstances of each state, including the political realities. One provision that is shared by several is a “non-discrimination” clause, which merits special attention. We have seen people in many states being told they have to sign up for NAIS if they want to participate in 4-H, sell at a local sales barn, or ____ (fill in the blank with a service or activity related to livestock).
Because of the level of control Agri-business has over agriculture in this country, both government-run programs and private programs pose significant risks that people will be forced to participate in order to conduct their normal activities. Non-discrimination provisions ensure that anyone who chooses not to be part of the program will be able to buy feed, sell at auction, use slaughterhouses, go to shows and fairs, and everything else we do now, without any pressure to sign up for NAIS.
Indiana: SB 486 in Indiana uses a significant portion of the language from the Liberty Ark Coalition’s model bill. The bill stops the state from participating in NAIS or any component of it and includes a non-discrimination provision for private programs. Given that Indiana was the second state to implement mandatory premises registration, this bill is a particularly huge step for this state!
Massachusetts: Two related but somewhat differing bills were introduced in Massachusetts. House Docket 1324 provides that the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture shall not take any federal funds for NAIS in FY 2007, shall stop uploading premises registration data to the federal database, and shall arrange for people who have been registered without their consent to be taken out of the database.
Senate Docket (SD) 1472 includes these provisions and adds additional important protections. SD 1472 bars the Department from establishing or participating in any program of premises registration or livestock animal identification, except for specific programs (such as scrapie) as they exist now and any future ones that are specifically authorized by law. This allows the Legislature to establish new programs if there is a true need, but prevents the agency from simply implementing NAIS under another name or disguised as an expansion of an existing program, as we have seen happen in Michigan already. SD 1472 also includes a non-discrimination provision.
Missouri: Two bills have been introduced. Both HB 422 and HB 478 are one-sentence long, stating simply that the Agriculture Department may not participate in NAIS without specific authorization from the legislature.
Texas: Texas HB 637 amends the existing statute that authorized implementation of NAIS, removing the agency’s authority to implement a mandatory program. HB 637 then provides important protections for any voluntary program: (1) it includes a non-discrimination clause; (2) it requires full disclosure and informed consent before anyone can be signed up; and (3) it allows people to withdraw at any time and have their information deleted.
Virginia: HB 1990 in Virginia initially consisted of just one sentence, barring the state agency from “participat[ing] in or provid[ing] any assistance to the establishment of the National Animal Identification System or any substantially similar program.” At a subcommittee hearing on January 23, the legislators agreed to amend the bill to allow for a voluntary program and to allow the agency to remain involved in the USDA discussions on the program. The specific language is not yet agreed upon.
Washington: Like the Indiana bill, Washington’s HB 1151 bill cuts off the existing agreements with the USDA and stops the state from participating in NAIS or any component of it. It limits private tracking programs to prevent Agri-business from abusing their control of the market to force individuals into their systems, and stops government entities from discriminating against people based on their refusal to participate in a private system.
Bad News: States That Are Moving Aggressively To Implement NAIS
Unfortunately, at the same time, other states have continued to aggressively pursue implementation of NAIS. The two standouts are Kentucky and Michigan.
Kentucky: Three weeks after USDA’s highly-publicized announcement that NAIS is “voluntary,” the Kentucky Department of Agriculture proposed regulations that would make the registration and animal identification portions of NAIS mandatory. In place of the 24-hour reporting called for in the federal NAIS plans, the proposed Kentucky regulations would require a certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) “or appropriate permit ….for movement or exhibition of all animal(s),” with only limited exceptions based on the specific species. (Proposed regulation 302 KAR 20:020).
The proposed regulations would also allow the State Veterinarian to enter any farm or “any other place where animals are handled” to inspect and test, without a warrant. The proposed regulations do not just apply to livestock, but cover all animals, including dogs and cats. On January 22nd, the Department issued revised proposed regulations. The revised proposal deletes the deadlines for premises registration and animal identification. But they retain the requirement for a CVI for sales and movements. And since the CVI would require “official individual identification … except where group/lot numbers are approved” and the “name and address of the owner/agent,” the CVI requirements would effectively create a mandatory NAIS. The only difference is that the land would not be labeled with a premises registration number in a federal database … for now. Comments on the proposed regulations were being accepted through January 31.
Michigan: As this issue goes to press, Michigan cattlemen are fighting a battle against the mandatory electronic tagging of their animals. Using the regulations for the Tuberculosis program, the Michigan Department of Agriculture made a “policy change” about the type of identification that must be used. Rather than allowing cheap metal tags, the Department is now requiring RFID tags on every cow. And in order to buy the tag, the farmers must sign up for a NAIS premises registration number. Voila – NAIS premises registration and animal identification accomplished without a single new statute or regulation. The deadline for tagging cattle is March 1, 2007, and a coalition of cattlemen, horse owners, and consumers are asking the Governor to halt the program so that legislation can be introduced to address it.
And the Rest of the Story
The majority of states continue in an undefined, unclear manner. Most (if not all) states are continuing with so-called voluntary programs, often being implemented with coercive means and federal funding. A couple of states deserve special mention for interesting twists on this theme.
Colorado: Colorado wins the prize for absurd bragging about its NAIS program. In January, press releases proclaimed “National Animal ID System Pays Off During Blizzard.” The Colorado Department of Agriculture used the NAIS database to call ranchers during the blizzards, and ask if they wanted hay airlifted to their cattle with helicopters and C-130 military transport planes. We have repeatedly been promised that the NAIS database would be accessed by the government only in times of disease outbreaks or other health threats that the animal owners might be unaware of. Clearly, this was neither a disease outbreak nor a situation where the animal owners were unaware of the problem!
If a farmer or rancher has a working phone line, most of us would expect that he would be fully capable of deciding whether or not he needs the government’s assistance, and contacting his local extension agent or the state agency himself if he so chose. Moreover, the blizzard had knocked down many fences and cattle wandered far and wide, so that knowing the location of the premises would have been of little help in locating the actual animals. Instead, the government wasted the money in setting up the database, then wasted yet more money in having employees calling the ranchers, and then sent the helicopters and planes to fly around looking for stranded cows that could be many miles away from the registered premises. And yet they brag about it.
Vermont: The Secretary of Agriculture has stated that the Department did not apply for the $81,000 in federal funds for which it was eligible, which is an excellent development. But the war is far from over. The Vermont Department of Agriculture is continuing to promote NAIS and register premises. (See www.vermontagriculture.com/fscp/animalHealth/prs/prs.html). A telephone conversation with Dr. Wood of the Department provided a telling quote: “The only thing stopped was the proposed rule to make it mandatory. There is still a voluntary program.” Apparently, it is not enough to cut off the federal funding for a year or convince an agency to drop proposed regulations. With industry and state organizations supporting NAIS, the program still has traction with state agriculture departments.
The experiences in these states carry important lessons for everyone. To truly stop the program, we will have to address all of the tentacles: the federal funding, the coercion and misinformation used to implement current voluntary programs, the misuse of existing programs as in Michigan, and the potential for abuses of even private programs. It is far too early to declare victory, but there is hope. In just a little over a year, the issue of NAIS has gone from being almost completely unknown to being a hotly-debated subject in public forums and state legislatures across the country. We have made a difference, because individuals have stepped forward to work together and make their voices heard. Keep it up! Go to www.farmandranchfreedom.org for tools on how you can fight NAIS, from educating your neighbors to lobbying your legislators.