NAIS should be fixed or forgotten


Four days before the seventh and final “listening session” June 1 to gather producer comments on NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced USDA would host six additional meetings for the public “to voice their concerns about the current NAIS system and offer potential solutions.”

The extra meetings are either a master stroke by a shrewd political operator or a bureaucratic blunder by a Washington rookie.

Heard nothing good

Master stroke because Vilsack, an early and ardent supporter of NAIS, heard nothing good about national animal ID since taking his (presumably ear-tagged and registered) dog-and-pony show on the road May 14.

Wherever it went — Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Washington state, Texas — producer after producer greeted it with anger and derision. Most used their three minutes of microphone fame to condemn NAIS as unnecessary, unworkable and un-American.

Detractors easily outnumbered backers — mostly masters of the vertical integration universe: meatpackers and their lackeys — 10-, 15- even 20-to-1.

What would you do?

Given the widespread hostility to NAIS by everyone except the 50 or so pork powers left in the national pork producers club and the well-marbled lobbyists at American Meat Institute, what would you do if you were Vilsack?

Exactly; announce six more meetings to gather six more buckets of venom to take back to Congress to say, “Hey, you city slicker goofballs, either fix this program or the White House is outa’ here.”

Then again, Vilsack may be agriculturally and Congressionally naive enough to truly believe he can fix a deeply flawed, corporate farm-favoring program if enough ag insiders sit around a table and split hairs.

In fact, he said almost exactly that during his personal NAIS meeting April 15 at USDA with some of ag’s biggest Capitol Hill suits.

After noting his “unshaken belief that when reasonable people get around the table” to discuss problems “oftentimes creative solutions… arise,” two hours of stern, frank objections to NAIS that morning delivered nothing new for Vilsack to hang any hope on.

Nothing to do with it

And nothing is precisely what most farmers and ranchers want to do with mandatory, national animal ID. Its flaws are as wide and deep as its unknowns. The biggest are the most obvious.

While mandatory animal identification is endlessly sold to lawmakers and consumers as a key element in new food safety regulations, producers have repeatedly pointed out that NAIS only tracks trouble after it occurs; it doesn’t prevent it.

As such, it is not a food safety tool as much as a liability-assigning tool and no farmer wants a new expressway built between him and the federal courthouse.

Also, NAIS is being sold as an export-enhancing program U.S. meat producers need to compete in the ever-hyped global marketplace.

At the listening sessions, however, producers condemned that reasoning by pointing out that years of export-enhancing legislation had thinned their ranks by millions even as it fattened corporate profits by billions.

Can’t afford it

Even worse, wondered session goers, as American animal agriculture suffers through one of its worst years ever, Congress and USDA continue to push a program producers neither want nor can afford.

An April cost-benefit analysis of NAIS estimated first-year implementation costs between $145 million and $228 million, money producers claim they simply don’t have.

Still unknown, too, is how NAIS would be enforced and what the penalties for non-compliance might be.

In short, NAIS remains a mess and Congress should know this because years of selling by agbiz and $120 million in backdoor implementation by USDA have encouraged just 35 percent of livestock owners to register their premises, the first step in NAIS.

Fixed or forgotten

As such, if anyone is actually listening at USDA’s sessions they’d hear that unless NAIS is fixed, it will be forgotten.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.


  1. As a consumer I am 100% in favor of a mandatory NAIS program. I, like the million of other US consumers, don’t have the time to waste on such a listening session! The question to mandate or not is ridiculous, JUST DO IT!

  2. Steve,

    If you want further consoliation within the marketplace, more corporate power over our food supply, food that is no safer and LESS FAMILY FARMERS, then you are right, we should implement mandatory NAIS. Otherwise, we should put our taxpaying dollars into programs that have already proven effective.

    If USDA has the legitimate intention of addressing issues affecting producers in our country, it should use it’s political capitol to address things that really matter, and could make a real difference to family farmers and rural communities, such as:

    1. enforcing anti-trust laws to the fullest extent possible to address corporate captive supply of livestock.
    2. increasing oversight, inspections and testing at packing plants.
    3. stopping imports from countries with know disease problems.
    4. regulating industrial livestock operations, and stopping taxpayer subsidies from going to these bad actors.
    5. supporting and improving on disease control programs that are proven and effective, instead of wasting millions of dollars on an unknown, unproven and unwanted program.

  3. As a horse owner I oppose the NAIS. I will not implant micro chips in my horses that have been proven to cause cancer as well as a host of other problems. And seriously, do taxpayers really want to spend millions of dollars to track where I ride my horses on any given afternoon?

    As a consumer I oppose the NAIS because I understand this program does nothing to protect our food supply, in fact the USDA still has not offered any proof that this system can do what they claim. You also have to ask yourself, if the gov is so worried about diseases, why have they opened our borders to allow imports from countries known to have diseases that we’ve already eradicated?

    As a taxpayer I oppose the NAIS because I understand the NAIS is the Ag industry’s version of “Welfare for the Wealthy”. Everyone pays (higher prices for meat and higher taxes to support the program) while only a few benefit. Those who benefit would be the big agribusinesses who export their products, the micro chip company, the private services we’d have to pay to store our data and of course, the USDA.

    As a home owner I oppose the NAIS because it gives the USDA the right to enter my private property any time day or night, without a warrant or permission and seize, redistribute or slaughter every livestock animal I own. That’s right, warrantless searches and seizures! According to this program any testing done before or after animals are taken or killed is forbidden. I would not be allowed to prove my animals are/were healthy.

    As a private citizen I oppose the NAIS because private information will be easily accessible to any computer hacker. If this program enters the third phase the names and locations of every livestock owner in the country will be available, as will the type and number of animals at each location and all animal movements.

    And one last point, the USDA claims to have 35 percent “voluntary” participation. The truth is that several states signed many people up for this program without their knowledge or consent in exchange for USDA funding. One state went so far as to stop children from entering their animals at fairs unless the parents signed up for the NAIS. Voluntary? Really?

    NO NAIS!

  4. I’m in complete agreement with Linda.

    Steve, NAIS is not a food safety plan even according to the USDA. It says that in their 2006 User Guide.
    I hope someday, someone comes along and says you need to pay to have your civil rights taken away in order to make them feel warm and fuzzy and help a multinational business. Then you’ll know how farmers feel.

  5. If this program is so wonderful, as the USDA touts, why are there so many websites popping up that are anti-NAIS? Why did the USDA claim we need NAIS to monitor mad cow disease, yet when Creekstone Beef wanted to test every carcass for it, the USDA said NO!

    NAIS is trying to be a one-size-fits-all program yet there is a huge difference between granny’s back yard hens, a pot belly pig in suburbia and the multi-billion dollar corporate ag and factory farms, which this program was ultimately made for. (oh by the way, the factory farms get one lot number per groups of animals, but granny has to microchip every animal she has and report their births, deaths and off-property movements.)

  6. NAIS is not a new idea…versions of it have been tried through recent history on both animals and people…both versions were disastrous.

    1938 Nazi Germany made a law that kept required a certain segment of society considered undesireable and a possible cause of disease, the Jews, by having them register every piece of property they owned. It became very easy to find out who to raid by the value of their belongings. What happened to the people who were raided? Do you recall something called the holocaust?
    In the early 1930’s, Stalin declared the collectivization of all farms, no more private ownership, all belonged to the govt, that way they could assure their place in the world grain market. When the independent farmers said no, troops moved in, all grain was declared owned by the govt and millions starved…


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