A New Threat to Rural Freedom
Mary Zanoni, Ph.D., J.D.

Small farmers and homesteaders have chosen their way of life because they love their freedom—the freedom from urban noise and congestion, the independence from daily government and corporate interference, the self-reliance of providing one’s own shelter, water and food. Now the USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is poised to threaten the traditional freedoms associate with the rural lifestyle.

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Just prior to this issue going to press, HF participated in a roundtable discussion on March 8, 2006 with the USDA’s Neil Hammerschmidt, NAIS coordinator, Dore Mobley, APHIS public affairs specialist and Dr. John Weimers, Senior Staff Officer.

Mobley indicated that the USDA has received hundreds of thousands of emails from concerned small farmers, and those emails are being forwarded to working groups. Regarding the animal-ID component of NAIS, Hammerschmidt indicated there are species working groups analyzing the details for how each specie/animal will need to be identified (ear tag, microchip, etc.); tracking and movement components are being discussed in working groups comprised of industry representatives and stakeholders.

The Genesis of the NAIS

The NAIS is the brainchild of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA). The NIAA is comprised of two primary groups – (1) large corporate players in U.S. meat production (e.g. the National Pork Producers, Monsanto, Cargill Meat); and (2) the manufacturers and marketers of high-tech animal identification equipment (e.g. Digital Angel, Inc., EZ-ID/AVID ID Systems, Micro Beef Technologies, Ltd.). Beginning in 2002, the NIAA cited the September 11 attacks and subsequently the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or “mad cow disease”) scares as reason to lobby the USDA for a nationwide, all-livestock registration and tracking system. The result of those efforts is the USDA’s proposed NAIS, set forth in a Draft Strategic Plan (Plan) and Draft Program Standards (Standards) released on April 25, 2005.  The Plan and Standards can be downloaded from www.usda.gov/nais.

Main Requirements of the NAIS
The NAIS would require two types of mandatory registration. First, premises registration would require every person who owns even one horse, cow, pig, chicken, sheep, pigeon or virtually any livestock animal, to register their home, including owner’s name, address and telephone number, and be matched to Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates (for satellite-assisted location of homes and farms) in a federal database under a 7-digit “premises ID number.” (Standards, pp. 3-4, 10-12; Plan, p. 5.) Second, individual animal identification will require owners to obtain a 15-digit ID number, also to be kept in the federal database, for any animal that ever leaves the premises of its birth. Thus, even if you are raising animals only for your own food, you will be required to obtain an individual ID to send animals to a slaughterhouse, to sell or buy animals, to obtain stud service, etc. Large-scale producers will be allowed to identify large groups of animals (e.g. pigs or broilers) raised and processed together by a single group ID number.  Read More >>>