February 16th, 2010 | Author: Amanda

The federal animal-tracking program NAIS would have been a disaster for small-scale farmers and homesteaders; the grassroots No-NAIS movement turned it into a PR nightmare for the USDA. Last week, Ag Sec’y Tom Vilsack proposed a new, more flexible program. Read on for details.

A NAIS history lesson

Way back in the day, some people at USDA dreamed up NAIS — a National Animal Identification System. While the intention — track disease, protect farms with good practices and hold others accountable– may have been noble, NAIS was the farming equivalent of “using a hatchet where you need a scalpel” (as a certain President might put it). NAIS would have required farmers, homesteaders and even pet owners to register their animals with the government, tag them, track and report their movements (across state borders, not around the farm), and submit yearly paperwork and fees.

The expense of the fees and tagging equipment would have driven many small farmers out of business. Others would have chosen to operate illegally under the radar. Beyond the expense, there was a principle at stake: Small producers were being punished for Big Ag’s bad behavior, and the effect would be to drive what little competition feedlot farms have out of business.

And there’s also that whole government-oversight thing. I bet you can guess how most farmers feel about that.

NAIS first came on the scene in Spring of 2005 and was supposed to be fully implemented by now, but USDA began backing off (thanks to major grassroots opposition) as early as April, 2006. Last week, USDA announced that NAIS is dead in the water, and a new program is slated to take its place.

Animal Disease Traceability Framework

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proposed a new program to replace NAIS. Here are some basics of the proposal:

  • After the Feds work with states to create a minimum standard, the details and administration of the program will be left to individual states. Records will also be owned and maintained at the state, rather than the federal, level.
  • Only producers whose animals will be moved in “interstate commerce” will be subject to the new framework. Homesteaders and most small farmers will be exempt, including those selling live animals at local markets.
  • Whereas NAIS required the use of expensive and excessive electronic chip identifiers, states will decide what forms of ID are officially required under the new framework. Visual tags and brands will be an acceptable possibility.
  • Much of the $120 million already spent on NAIS paid for elements that will be useful under the new framework as well — IT infrastructure, for example, and NAIS electronic tags that have already been implemented under the voluntary program.

You can read more details at USDA’s Animal Disease Traceability site. USDA hopes to issue a proposed rule for the federal minimum requirements next winter, at which time they’ll offer a 90-day comment period. No need to wait until then to make your opinion heard, though — get in touch with your state veterinarian [pdf] to let them know what you think of the new proposed framework.