Goodbye NAIS! Hello?

Opinion
Feb 12, 2010

USDA announced last week that they were altering their plans for the very unpopular National Animal Identification System (NAIS). When USDA held a series of producer input meetings last year, they certainly got an earful of negative responses. Therefore, USDA has decided to stop pursuing their NAIS plan and set a new framework for a more user-friendly program operated by each state and individual Indian nations.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said to The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture that USDA will send the responsibility of animal ID back to the states and Indian tribes so they can do what works for them. The ID systems they devise will be required for interstate shipment of animals, where USDA still plans on participating. USDA will work with stakeholders to develop a system that is up to a certain standard but will be unintrusive to producers. Any animal ID systems will only be used for disease trace-back.

USDA really didn’t have much of a choice other than throw it back to the states. Their funding was substantially reduced in the last ag appropriations bill. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, killed it in the last go-round. However, DeLauro has been very interested in an animal ID/traceability system for food safety issues. We certainly expect the traceability issue to come up again as it is a pet issue of the congresswoman.

She recently said, "I am concerned that we are moving from a single system capable of integrating and analyzing information across state lines to a collection of over 50 smaller systems that rely on different technology will be less effective for national animal disease and response efforts. As the federal agency receiving funds, designing and implementing the program, USDA needs to maintain accountability for a successful animal disease traceability system."

USDA produced a list of frequently asked questions about the new direction they plan on going with the new system and it was pretty vague. It appears that the agency is playing this one as they go. However, they expect to have the state vets proposals by March 1, and they intend to hash details out later in the month, which is a bit unrealistic. USDA will assemble their framework with the vets and it will run through the federal rule-making process in order to have it ready for public comment next fall.

All cattle shipped across state lines will be required to have some form of ID that will be compatible with USDA’s framework. The devil is going to be in the details on this one. USDA may have simply figured out a market-driven system that will get them the bulk of the information they need to trace livestock disease outbreaks. The cattle industry will be in the middle of this process since beef cattle cross state lines more frequently than most other species.

One of the negative aspects about USDA’s prior plan was their plan to eventually make it a mandatory system. In the new program, if you intend on selling cattle across state lines, it will indeed be mandatory. Animal ID could become a market access issue for a lot of producers who want to capitalize on the widest available markets. I would have to think that USDA will want some level of information consistency for any cattle in the system.

Vilsack says the infrastructure that USDA has developed for NAIS will remain active, with the hopes that state and tribal vets will tie into the system to complete a nationwide data set. You can still use the ‘840’ tags USDA offers and premise ID numbers will remain in the system. Vilsack also said that $120 million has already been invested in an ID system and it would be a shame to simply scrap the technology platform they have. He also wants to remind producers that this new program isn’t NAIS, although it appears that it may be a hybrid.

So, don’t expect that you’ve heard the end of the debate over NAIS, it just won’t be called NAIS in the future.

In fact, we may eventually end up saddled with two separate systems if DeLauro has her way. The Food and Drug Administration also appears to be thinking about traceability of food products in an effort to accomplish food safety goals, even though traceback on a commodity product like beef is a difficult thing to do. — PETE CROW

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