No surprises: Congress hears ag groups argue NAIS implementation

SALEM, Ohio — Dissent and disagreement within the agricultural community about the future of the national animal identification program came through loud and clear during Congressional hearings last week.

Animal identification, lauded by some farm groups as absolutely necessary to protect the food supply and criticized by others as a flawed program that will threaten farmers’ livelihoods, was debated before a House agriculture subcommittee March 11.

Looking good

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry heard testimony that battled both sides of the issue.

Subcommittee chair David Scott of Georgia told those in attendance that his personal belief was that the National Animal Identification System was “necessary” and “carries with it many benefits for producers, processors, and consumers,” including measures to keep livestock protected from disease outbreaks.

Scott also said the system could save the government money while maintaining food supply safety.

Livestock commodity groups, including the National Pork Producers Council and IDairy, a coalition of six U.S. dairy organizations, said a national identification system would help keep American farms viable and urged Congress to support and fund the initiative.

Of specific interest to both groups were federal and state disease surveillance abilities, which they admitted would work only if and when all animals and herds are identified in a central, national database.

Already participating

Nationally, since 2005, some 75 percent of dairy producers have voluntarily registered their premises to participate in NAIS. In many states, including New York and Pennsylvania, more than 90 percent of dairy herds have signed up, according to IDairy. However, the industry has admitted that until NAIS becomes mandatory, getting the last 25 percent to participate will be difficult.

“The system is only as strong as its weakest link. Now is the time for Congress and USDA to work together to make mandatory animal ID a reality,” said North Carolina dairy producer and veterinarian Karen Jordan during House testimony.

In 1988, the U.S. pork industry established a swine ID system, which helped eradicate pseudorabies from the commercial herd. Through 2008, NPPC and the National Pork Board had registered about 80 percent of U.S. hog farms.

Opposition

At the same time, a coalition of family farmers, independent ranchers and consumer groups gave a completely different picture of the system.

Groups such as R-CALF USA, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund pointed to NAIS as a fundamentally flawed program whose costs pose a real threat to farmer livelihoods and will produce no benefits for consumers or food safety.

“The subcommittee failed to even acknowledge that four states have already adopted laws barring a mandatory NAIS program, and three more states currently have bills filed to do the same thing,” testified Judith McGeary, a Texas livestock farmer and president of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.

“The state legislators are listening to what their constituents are saying: NAIS will not improve food safety or animal health, but it will impose significant costs on family farmers.”

The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund said the hearing was stacked in favor of groups calling for the program’s mandatory implementation.

“There was virtually no representation for organic and local producers or consumers, the very groups that are most negatively affected by NAIS,” said Pete Kennedy, acting president of the fund, in a prepared statement.

Privacy concerns

Opposition groups also highlighted their concerns about the program’s ability to protect farmers’ private information.

“It has become increasingly clear that the protection of our constituents’ proprietary information needs to be a greater concern for USDA, and they have not made a convincing argument that the capability of protecting that information exists today,” said Randy Neugebauer, ranking member of the subcommittee, in a media statement following the hearing.

“Many of the witnesses made a strong case that the benefits of a mandatory animal ID system do not measure up to the costs for such a system,” he said.

Stalled engine

The USDA established the National Animal Identification System in 2004. However, a series of missteps, misinformation from groups opposed to it and, now, a lack of federal funding, have hampered implementation of the system.

USDA admitted that despite over $130 million spent on NAIS, barely one-third of producers have chosen to register in the past five years.

“After five years of throwing over $100 million at a voluntary system, we are still in pretty much the same place,” said ag committee chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

“Even worse, many of the crucial aspects of the program show little promise of ever being substantially implemented. Agency staff have told us that the program as currently structured would never be effective in providing the country with a reliable trace-back system. The stakeholders out there need to get together and resolve their differences.”

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About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

4 Comments

  1. Marsha Dodson says:

    TESTIMONIES DO NOT REFLECT USDA’S OWN DOCUMENTS

    USDA’s documents state that NAIS is NOT a “food safety” program. NAIS is NOT a “disease prevention” program.

    After three years of reading USDA/NAIS documents, it makes me so angry to hear lies in testimonies and politicians voting on issues that they have only heard of through paid lobbyist and farm organizations. These organizations have never polled their members nor allowed a vote.

    Common sense dictates that when you have two conflicting views on an issue…READ the documents!

    I have put much time on this issue. Plain and simple NAIS is an unsafe trade agreement.

    STOP NAIS NOW!!

  2. The reason that the pork and dairy industry united for their Pro-NAIS position is that they are paid government contractors to implement the program. Some of us have the secret government contract’s obtained under FOIA and Public Disclosure.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the citizens categorically reject NAIS and are repulsed at the intrusion into their daily lives.

    Small farmers just want to do what they do best: bring you healthy, local foods and food products that are untainted by foreign imports and lost nutrition.

    Does registering your property keep you safe from contaminated chili? You have a tx number on your property is that keeping you safe? How will electronic identification, that has been scientifically linked with cancer, keep you safe from tainted spinach? And all those cameras do that are looking down on you is log what you buy but do not keep you safe.

    The new administration is laying claim that they need to deal with the “old way” food hazard. The truth is that American foods have been historically safe and desired by people around the world. Due to our imports this impression has stopped.

    True Homeland Security does not come from over regulation of your local farmer it comes from you, the consumer supporting local farming by buying their products. Food hazards are eliminate when you know the farmer and the farmer knows you.

  3. Karen N says:

    First of all, only TWO groups (R-CALF and the National Cattleman’s Beef Assoc) were allowed to provide oral testimony against NAIS and they were each given exactly 5 minutes to speak. Dr. Clifford from the USDA was given unlimited time and he spoke for an hour and a half. The other groups who were allowed to present oral testimony (National Milk Producers Federation, Natonal Pork Producers Council) have all received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Cooperative Agreements with the USDA since 2004 for the implementation of NAIS so of course they were biased toward the program!
    The point that Congress and you in this article miss is that NAIS will NOT “protect the food supply” because ID ends at the slaughterhouse door. Every single recall of meat has resulted from contamination at either the slaughter house or the processors/meat packers.
    In addition, NAIS does nothing to PREVENT disease. It is an after-the-fact traceback. We already have programs for that perform these functions.
    Last, those in opposition do NOT provide “misinformation”. Our information comes directly from the documents the USDA has published itself. I have read every single one of them. Have you?

  4. Barbara says:

    USDA has skewed the numbers of “voluntary” registrations. Many of them were issued without the agreement or knowledge of the PRIVATE PROPERTY OWNERS!
    By declaring these properties a “premise”, the owners have been demoted to “stakeholders” or temants on their own land. They are no longer protected by the 4th Amendment. USDA doesn’t deny this – they just dance around the question.

    NAIS also violates the 1st Amendment rights of fundamental Christians like the Amish and Mennonites. State gov’ts are registering their farms without permission so they can have a “clear conscience”.

    The USDA 2006 User Guide clearly states the “NAIS is not a food safety protection system”. So why are they selling it to Congess and the public like it is?

    In fact, NAIS encompasses species that aren’t even used for food! WHY?? What business is it of the federal government to know I attended a local horse show near my home or that I board a few horses on my property? Is this why I’m being asked to surrender my civil rights?

    And finally, the only “misinformation” I’ve heard has come from the USDA. Those of us opposed are only spreading the information they put out and putting two and two together.

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