Thursday, May 4, 2006
Animal ID program faces opposition
By SUE WATSON
A new livestock identification system under development by the United States Department of Agriculture has raised concerns of some small animal keepers.
Stop Animal ID.org is one of numerous websites posting information about a new system proposed for livestock animals - horses, cattle, goats, sheep, swine, poultry, bison, llamas, deer, elk, alpacas and some fish. Most concerns are that citizens stand to lose privacy rights and freedoms if the government takes the program too far.
Stop Animal Id.org claims, “Despite assertions to the contrary, this program, as currently planned, will be mandatory by January 2009, for all those who keep even one of the livestock animal species included and take them off their property for any reason.”
Some cattle producers like Steve Elgin, a local cattleman, and educators like Lance Newman, area livestock and forage agent in Oxford, are not personally concerned about NAIS, the new national animal identification under development by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). They believe NAIS will help trace sources of disease and infection in livestock more quickly than the methods now in use nationwide.
Cattleman Davie Seldon of northern Marshall County in the Mt. Pleasant area, said he has already registered his premises with USDA. He believes the new system under development by NAIS, will make it easier to trace cases of cattle infections like Mad Cow Disease.
“It will be easier to trace cases instead of having to go to every farm,” Seldon said.
The program under development by USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is being instituted by the government for quick backtracking of sick animals to the source (location) of origin of the infection or disease. USDA says current methods of finding the location or herd where an animal spent time before it was discovered sick take too long.
Newman said the NAIS system, now in use in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, is not a perfect system now, but it probably will be.
“The good thing is that we can learn from other countries about the good and the problems as we look at implementing the program in the U.S.,” he said. “My job is to inform people.”
NAIS is set to be implemented by 2009, by first identifying premises where animals are located, identifying animals either individually or by group, and then keeping a record of the movements of these animals from one location to another.
Newman said no livestock animal would be tagged with a unique number unless the animal is sold or exhibited at a show.
The government will require tagging at the sale barn before the animal is transferred to the buyer, he said. There will be a nominal fee for the identification tag, probably between $2 and $3, he said.
For now the livestock identification program’s goal for premises identification is strictly voluntary with 213,376 registered premises in 50 states, five tribes and two territories as of March 7, 2006, according to USDA’s website.
USDA will set aside $14.3 million for state and tribal governments to continue the registration of premises, according to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, in a news story on its website.
NAIS would replace the current animal tracking system animal health officials use to conduct disease trace outs - records related to program diseases, on farm record keeping, interstate movement certificates and breed registries - with the new identification system.
Current systems can require days to weeks to complete a disease investigation while NAIS should make it possible to do that in 48 hours, Newman said.
In 2004, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection System began working with industry and tribal partners to implement NAIS, a system that will help trace diseased or potentially diseased animals to their point of origin quickly and efficiently by identifying premises that manage or hold animals - a first step.
NAIS took the second step by allocating ID tag numbers to tag manufacturers and approving visual ID tags for NAIS, a measure that will be used to distribute tags to producers, according to a USDA March 9, 2006, news release.
The tag system is for cattle but implantable devices are also being studied for other species.
Newman said alternative identification systems are being considered for some purposes but USDA has not settled on alternative identification systems.
For example, a microchipping system is being discussed by the agency to identify animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
APHIS has the authority to regulate most warmblooded animals being used for exhibition, research and the wholesale pet trade and the transportation of these animals in commerce, according to a March 15, 2006 news release from USDA.
Dogs and cats used in research or wholesale trade are currently identified with tags, tattoos or collars. Newman said one of the biggest misconceptions is that animal owners will have to tag their animals regardless of when they go to sale or trade.
“So, if you raise animals on your farm and process the meat yourself, you don’t have to,” he said. “NAIS is a process I am very much in favor of to protect our food supply. No doubt our food supply is the safest in the world. I want it to continue to be.”
He said some livestock diseases could possibly be eradicated with the use of the new animal tracing system. Knowing where the animal has been is important to investigate any cases of Mad Cow Disease that might turn up and for eradicating diseases in cows such as Brucellosis, Newman said. It is a system that can be used to check if an animal has been mixed with other animals at places such as sales barns or animal shows.
“Time will tell,” he said. “You don’t have to do it until you sell your animal.”
Premise identification is the first step and costs nothing, he said. Forms are available online from the Mississippi Board of Animal Health (www.mbah.state.ms.us), at UDSA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (animalid.aphis.gov), from msucares.com or from the Southeastern Livestock Network (SLNLLC.com).
Stop Animal ID.org argues that the current animal tracking systems in use work well and that disease control is not the real reason USDA wants NAIS in place.
“Rather, it would seem to benefit major producers, the factory farmers, while giving small farmers major disadvantages. There appears to be little or no benefit to the consumer, but the costs of the program will, inevitably, be passed along to him through higher costs and possibly higher taxes as well.
“Besides the costs, NAIS will infringe upon freedom that has hitherto been largely enjoyed by farmers. Although there have been regulations and required registrations, these have never been so invasive. The requirement that all premises and animals be registered with the government is essentially a license to own and raise livestock. In a nutshell, farmers will need the government’s permission to own livestock, even if it never enters the public food supply.”
Newman said the above statements by Stop Animal Id.org are not completely factual, particularly statements that animal owners will have to identify their premises even if they are raising animals for their own use or pleasure. To learn more about Stop Animal Id.org, visit the website where links can be found to numerous other organizations in many states opposed to NAIS.
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