The NAIS Story--crossposted from another list
If fully adopted and implemented, the likely outcome of NAIS is
that animal ownership increasingly will be limited to large entities
who can afford to comply and who are willing to accept the
governmental intrusion. Yet this "feel good" program will
do virtually nothing to safeguard animal health, its alleged purpose.
Rather, NAIS will do all of the following:
drive small producers and their supporting suppliers (feed
stores, auction houses, etc) out of existence
make people abandon raising animals for their own food and as
invade Americans' personal privacy to a degree never
deprive Americans of their property rights
violate the religious freedom of Americans whose beliefs make
it impossible for them to comply
cost the American economy far more than it will deliver
So what is this program and how did it develop?
The concept of an electronic national animal identification system
was started back in the early 1990s, by technology companies seeking to
expand their market, and large agricultural entities seeking to protect
their ability to sell their mass produced meat on the world market.
Their efforts culminated in 2002, when the National Institute for
Animal Agriculture (NIAA) proposed that the USDA develop a
"national animal identification system" (NAIS). While NIAA
may sound like a public interest organization, its membership reads
like a who's who in industrial agriculture and technology,
including entities such as Cargill Pork, Tyson, National Pork
Producers Council, and Global Vet Link.
Notably, the NIAA developed the national animal identification
system more than a year and a half before the first case
of Mad Cow was found in the U.S. Over the course of three years, USDA
and NIAA worked together to develop the NAIS and inform the
large-scale livestock producer community, while ignoring hundreds of
thousands of people who will be affected.
The Federal Plan
After it took up the task from Industry, the USDA developed the
plan through working groups, made up of representatives from
government agencies, large agribusinesses, and technology companies.
Notably absent from these workgroups were any significant
representatives of pet owners, recreational animal owners, and small
farmers and ranchers. Much of the work of these workgroups has yet to
be completed, yet industry is rushing to make this program mandatory
and implemented nationwide, without regard to the price to be paid by
consumers and the average animal owner.
On April 25, 2005, the USDA released "Draft Program
Standards" ("Standards") and a "Draft Strategic
Plan" ("Plan") for the NAIS. The Standards and Plan
have no authority in law. The USDA has stated that the Animal Health
Protection Act of 2002 is the source of its authority. (Plan at 9.)
But that statute addresses only the import and export of animals,
interstate travel, quarantines areas, and related programs. Two
Congresses have tried, but failed to pass legislation that would amend
the Act to provide for a mandatory electronic tracking system for
individual head of livestock. USDA is operating without authority
from Congress. Currently, there are three bills in Congress, trying
to give postdated authority to this assault on our freedom. The
existence of these bills proves that there is no Congressional
authority for USDA to establish a mandatory animal identification
USDA, various state agencies, and many private companies who have
vested financial interests in seeing NAIS adopted have tried to
present an image of the NAIS as a sensible, practical plan to address
animal disease. A review of the government's plan, however,
shows quite the opposite. The current NAIS Plan provides:
Premises registration: Every person who owns even
one horse, cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat, deer, elk,
bison, or virtually any livestock animal, will be forced to register
their home, including owner's name, address, and telephone number, and
keyed to Global Positioning System coordinates, in a government
database under a 7-digit "premises ID number." (Standards, pp. 3-4,
10-12; Plan, p. 5.) Additionally, pet owners who own one parakeet,
canary, cockatiel, etc. as owners of "exotic fowl" have been targeted
for mandatory inclusion in this system. If you buy a pet bird after
this system is put into effect, it probably will already have an
Animal Identification Number. It will be registered to you, and you
must register your premises (wherever you keep the bird). If you move
the bird off your "premises" for any reason, or it dies, or it
produces more birds, you must report such activity to the federal
government within 24 hours. In Texas, there was a staff
recommendation to hold off on mandatory registration of exotic fowl
kept as pets, until a disease was suspected, then they will implement
mandatory registration. However, that recommendation is on hold until
TAHC decides what path it will take.
Animal Identification: Every animal will have to
be assigned a 15-digit ID number by the government. The form of ID
will most likely be a tag or microchip containing a Radio Frequency
Identification Device (RFID), designed to be read from a distance.
(Plan, p. 10; Standards, pp. 6, 12, 20, 27-28.) The plan may also
include collecting the DNA of every animal and/or a retinal scan of
every animal. (Plan, p.13.) Despite the announcement that a federal
mandatory database might be put off, USDA maintains detailed
information on the structure of these 15-digit ID numbers as of
mid-March 2006, ostensibly so that ID manufacturers could normalize
their numbering systems. Some animals such as pigs and poultry, owned
by large producers, may have a "group" identifier assigned instead of
an individual number for each animal, as described below.
While some state agencies and industry actors have pointed to
the provision for "group numbers" for poultry and swine,
small farmers do not manage their animals in ways that would qualify.
Group or lot identification can only be used where groups of animals
are managed together from birth to death and never commingled with
other animals. (Standards pp.5-6.) This provision is tailored for
confinement poultry operations, not pastured poultry operations. If
animals do not meet the requirements for group identification, they
will have to be individually identified.
Animal Tracking: The owner will be required to report: the
birthdate of an animal, the application of every animal's ID tag,
every time an animal leaves or enters the property, every time an
animal loses a tag, every time a tag is replaced, the slaughter or
death of an animal, or if any animal is missing. Also, every time an
animal goes onto or off of another person's premises, a report would
be required, showing that the tagged animal had been on each of these
other premises. Such events must be reported within 24 hours.
(Standards, pp. 12-13, 17-21.)
Third parties, such as veterinarians, will be required to
report "sightings" of animals who do not have ID numbers.
(Standards, p. 25.) In other words, if a farmer or rancher calls a
vet to their property to treat an animal, and the vet finds any animal
without the mandatory 15-digit computer-readable ID, the vet may be
required to report that non-compliance.
There are no exceptions; under the USDA plan; livestock owners
will be forced to register and report even if they raise animals only
for their own food or keep horses for draft or for transportation.
The USDA will exercise "enforcement" against
livestock farmers who don't comply. (Standards, p. 7; Plan,
p. 17.) As an example of what can be expected, the proposed Texas
regulations for mandatory premises registration provide for fines of
up to $1,000 per day and criminal penalties.
The Alleged Rationale: Disease Control
The alleged rationale for this program is to protect against animal
disease by providing 48-hour traceback of all animal movements. The
proponents raise the specter of Mad Cow, foot and mouth, avian flu,
and other "foreign animal diseases." There are many flaws
with this rationale.
The first flaw is that the threat of disease cannot justify every
intrusion into our privacy and property rights. Disease, both human
and animal, has been part of our existence for millennia. The
government's and industry's attempt to use fear to deprive
us of our rights is unacceptable.
Second, even when viewed solely from the perspective of animal
disease problems, the NAIS is unnecessary, ineffective, and even
counterproductive. The government already has established systems and
processes, including surveillance, tracking, and quarantines, for
controlling the spread of animal diseases. In contrast to the
established systems, this new program is impractical; the technology
is flawed, the database would be unmanageable, and the logistics of
actually tagging and tracking the animals would dwarf any government
program in existence. The costs will roll downhill to the smallest
producer and individual animal owner. There are no provisions for
USDA to offset the staggering costs of this national program.
Moreover, the tracking of animal disease 48 hours later does little
to address either the prevention of diseases or the safety of our food
supply. If we want to protect Americans from Mad Cow disease, for
example, the answer is simple: stop feeding animal parts to cattle and
test animals that are slaughtered before they enter the food chain.
The problems of salmonella and e. coli in our food supply can also be
best addressed by prevention and proper inspection of
slaughterhouses. Tracking will not solve these problems.
The idea that a one-size-fits-all tracking program could address
the issue of animal disease shows a complete lack of understanding of
biology and animal management. As is well documented in the
scientific literature, the susceptibility of animals to disease and
the likelihood of transmission differ greatly depending on the
conditions under which the animals are kept. Yet the NAIS makes no
distinction between farmers raising a small herd of sheep and cattle
on carefully-tended pastures, and a feedlot with hundreds of animals
crowded into small pens, hock-deep in manure; there is no distinction
between a pastured poultry operation where the birds are moved daily
and sunlight kills any pathogens and confinement operations with
10,000 chickens living in an unsanitary, crowded building. This
program is precisely the opposite of what is needed to
prevent and control disease.
Indeed, NAIS will probably increase the spread of livestock
diseases by creating a new black market. If these new regulations are
adopted, it is inevitable that some people will not comply -
whether for religious reasons, economic reasons, or unwillingness to
allow the government intrusion. Since they will be acting illegally,
they will be far less likely to seek a veterinarian's help should
a disease problem arise.
The Secondary Alleged Rationale: The Export Market
The USDA has stated that NAIS is also necessary to protect the
U.S.'s export market. Yet a voluntary program would suffice to
address exports. Such a program would allow the market to determine
how valuable it is to track animals from birth to death. Any farmer
that wishes to export animals or food to other countries could enroll
in the program; in turn, these exporters could refuse to buy from
anyone who was not also enrolled in the tracking program. There is no
reason to impose the heavy burdens of NAIS on the thousands of
farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, and companion animal owners who have
no interest in being part of the commercial chain.
The Real Reasons
Given that the stated reasons for NAIS are insupportable, one has
to look for the true reasons for this program. In searching for the
truth, it is helpful to look at who is advocating the program.
First, the large industrial agriculture entities, such as Cargill
Pork and Tyson, support this program. These entities will reap
all of the benefits from the enhanced export market, without bearing
the costs that will be imposed on the people actually raising the
animals and/or taxpayers. Moreover, by creating such a burdensome
program, the industrial agriculture can rid itself of the small, but
rapidly-growing, local foods movement that threatens its monopoly and
its ability to complete the vertical integration of our food supply.
Second, various technology companies also stand to profit from this
program. Global Vet Link, Micro Beef Technologies, and Digital Angel
are all members of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and
involved in the working groups developing the details of the
plans. Such companies not only make the microchips and radiotags, but
charge for software and related equipment necessary to operate these
Third, the large associations support this program, even though
most of their members are opposed. While this is puzzling at first,
it is yet again an issue of following the money. The USDA has stated
that the database with all of the NAIS information will be
privately-held, to avoid Freedom of Information Act issues. There has
been repeated discussion that NAIS will actually consist of multiple
databases. Many large livestock and companion animal breed
associations already operate significant databases with information on
livestock animal owners, and are perfectly positioned to become
contractors and subcontractors for the NAIS database. The government
will mandate registration and reporting, and the private organizations
will be able to charge as they like, because their "customers" are
captives of NAIS.
The Real Effects
So if NAIS will not solve animal disease problems, what will it do?
Eradication of Small Farms - People with just a few meat
animals or 40-cow dairies are already living on the edge financially.
The USDA plan will force many of them to give up farming.
Loss of the True Security of Organic and Local Foods -
The NAIS is touted by the USDA and agricorporations as a way to make
our food supply "secure" against diseases or terrorism.
However, most people instinctively understand that real food security
comes from raising food yourself or buying from a local farmer you
actually know. The USDA plan will only kill off more local sources of
production, which are our best defense in the event of adulteration of
the food supply by terrorists. These small producers also represent
the community of organic and sustainable agriculture farmers and
ranchers, which provide food sources in increasing demand.
Destruction of Personal Property Rights as We Know Them
- Legally, livestock animals are a form of personal property. The
NAIS plan refers to a "national herd" (Plan p.8) which
clearly indicates the government's vision: private ownership
rights will be destroyed, and no one will be allowed to birth, hatch,
own, or transfer any head of livestock without government permission.
We can take our shotguns and walk over our neighbor's property,
but if children ride their ponies to their neighbors, or a farmer
gives a couple chickens to a neighbor, that will have to be registered
with the government.
Extreme Damage to Personal Privacy - It is unprecedented
for the United States government to conduct large-scale computer-aided
surveillance of its citizens simply because they own a common type of
property. (The only exceptions are registration of motor vehicles
and, in some locales, guns.) A gun owner will be able to transport
their gun almost anywhere they want to go, without reporting such
movement to anyone. But, if you take a chicken to a livestock show,
you will have to report it. The NAIS would actually subject the owner
of a chicken to far more surveillance than the owner of a gun.
Insult to Animal Welfare - The NAIS is the ultimate
objectification of higher level living creatures, treating individual
animals as if they were cans of peas with a bar code. Many people who
raise their own animals, or buy from small local producers, do so
because they are very troubled by industrial-scale production of
chickens, cattle, sheep, and pigs. These people will be forced either
to sacrifice their personal privacy to government surveillance, or to
stop raising their own food by humane standards.
Burden on Religious Freedom - Many religious sects
require their members to raise their own food animals and use animals
in farming and transportation because their beliefs require them to
live this way. Such people obviously cannot comply with the
USDA's computerized, technology-dependent system. The NAIS will
force these people to violate their religious beliefs.
Extraordinary Costs without Value - The database will
cost far more than it will delivery. The disease control claims are
specious, as they ignore that disease control methods must be designed
based on the species and disease involved, and the vectors of
transmission. One system, even if it was useful for one species, will
not fit all. The numbers of annual reports, and the size of the
database, will dwarf any other database the federal government has. If
it cannot track aliens with expired visas, how will it track
300,000,000 annual reports of movement or tagging of chickens? In
other countries that have adopted mandatory premises and animal
identification and tracking, costs have multiplied to twelve times the
original fees per animal. Our economy cannot absorb these costs, when
American citizens will reap no measurable benefit.
A Technological Nightmare - While the technology
companies claim that they can deliver the technology called for under
NAIS, this technology carries many problems and dangers of its own.
RFID chips can be reprogrammed or even infected with viruses. Want to
place the blame for a sick animal on someone else? Just reprogram the
tag. Want to create chaos at a livestock auction? Infect the tags
with viruses. Want to steal a horse? Simply destroy the microchip
embedded in the horses' neck and insert a counterfeit one of your
It is critical that everyone learn what is happening in their
state. NAIS is not a federal mandate. The USDA has no
statutory authority to implement NAIS. Each state is free to decide
for itself whether or not to implement an animal
So find out if your state already has legislation or is
implementing NAIS without legislation. If there is legislation, is
the state agency working on regulations to implement it? If there
isn't legislation, then how is it that your state is setting up its
program? You, and your friends, have the capability to block and/or
force the repeal of any laws. Tell your neighbors about this attack
on our civil liberties.