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NAIS: Simpler Technology Fuels Fire


No sooner have most people pronounced NAIS dead-on-arrival, than a number of recent events may have breathed life back into the U.S.A.’s National Animal Identification Scheme. A combination of market forces aligned with a simplified tracking technology, and some rare positive news may have reinvigorated USDA’s moribund, voluntary animal traceability initiative.

First the news headlines. Even though the U.S. House of Representatives had voted to cut off funding for the NAIS as part of the Farm Bill, a joint House-Senate conference committee agreed a few weeks ago to continue funding the program to the tune of $5.3 million for fiscal year 2010-2011. This funding is a reduction from the $14.2 million authorized for last year and less than the $14.6 million the Senate approved, but the program will continue. However, a growing number of Congressional members have made it clear they want to see effective leadership from USDA to dispel some of the more egregious NAIS rumors running unchallenged in the countryside (e.g., backyard farmers with only a few chickens for home use or sale to friends will have to tag and track each animal). They also want to expand the number of farms and ranches that have registered with the NAIS premises database from the current anemic 35% to closer to the 90% needed for an effective national system.

The second piece of good news for NAIS supporters is that U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer in Washington, D.C., dismissed a civil suit filed by the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund and a group of Michigan cattlemen against the USDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) over the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The group’s suit, filed last September, sought to enjoin the implementation and enforcement of NAIS. The suit was dismissed primarily because Judge Collyer ruled the program was voluntarily adopted by state departments of agriculture and was not federally mandated.

Even with a bit of good news, the anti-NAIS forces continue to rally their troops by claiming that NAIS is overly burdensome, and is unnecessary because existing livestock records, such as brands, ear tags, veterinary logs and auction barn records do a good job of tracking cattle movements. Dr. George Teagarden, the Kansas state veterinarian, agrees that the current, fragmented record-keeping system can be used “to find the animals in question, but it can be months after the fact.” According to Dr. Teagarden, this time lag isn’t nearly fast enough and he cautions, “A highly contagious animal disease will devastate this country.” He underscores this dire prediction by noting that in Kansas in a single month cattle from all 48 of the Continental U.S. states arrive at least once a month. The speed of commerce is way too fast to be handled by the fragmented, paper-based system. Dr. Teagarden advocates a mandatory ID and traceability program that is consistent across state lines, and notes, “What voluntary system do any of you know that ever worked?”

Apparently, a number of national governments agree with Dr. Teagarden, and recently several have made or are poised to move their systems from voluntary to mandatory. Within the last few months these key countries have made major moves towards mandatory traceability; moves that are likely to impact USA policy and USA producers.

Brazil. Brazil has just announced that by 2011 all livestock producers will be required to participate in a mandatory traceability system. The new system will rely on simpler technology than the current, voluntary SISBOV system which is RFID-based, and every segment of the Brazilian supply chain, from cow-calf operator to slaughter facility including transporters will be required to provide a complete chain of custody records. Real-time electronic record-keeping is not being mandated, but standardized record-keeping whose data can be transmitted via Internet portals to centralized databases will be used. The SISBOV system will continue to exist for those who want to use it, but the expectation among Brazilian officials is that most producers will use the standardized, simplified paper-based system.

Korea. South Korea has instituted a traceback system on domestically raised beef, and has indicated that it would require traceback on imported product by 2010.

Japan. The Japanese government has had a domestic animal identification system in place for several years, and on three different occasions the then-minority political party, the Democratic Party of Japan, had unsuccessfully tried to pass legislation that would require the same level of traceability for imports. In August the DPJ successfully became the controlling party for the first time in a long period, and newly appointed Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has vowed to once again try to revise the Beef Traceability Law. He doesn’t have control of the Upper House of Parliament, but he may be able to persuade his two coalition partners to go along.

How do these foreign government actions impact the U.S. meat industry? The Brazilian action probably has less direct impact on the US than do the Asian actions, because the Brazilian action was aimed at broadening acceptance of Brazilian beef in the EU. There will be some impact, though, because the largest of the Brazilian meat companies, JBS, is also one of the major U.S. meat producers so there will likely be some technology transfer from Brazilian ranches to their U.S. counterpart.

The Asian country actions, though, are likely to have a major impact for USA producers because both Korea and Japan are major importers of American meat. According to Ken Stielow, Chairman of the Cattleman’s Beef Board – Beef Checkoff program, “Exports are key to the future of the US beef industry.” The National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA) monetizes this statement by indicating to its producers that widening exports to Japan could “add $50 per head to your bottom line”. Losing the Japanese market has been shown to cost producers about $180 per head. And since the margin of profit per head in a good year fluctuates between $50 to $100 per head, the economic impact of the export market is hard to deny. Additionally, when you multiply these numbers by 35 million animals harvested annually, the impact on the entire agri-food sector is significant.

This impact can be further seen in the fluctuations of the price per head producers receive for their cattle as exports either rise or fall. Sales of beef to Korea rose sharply in Q3 of 2008 as beef trade resumed and producer prices rose as well. Since then, US beef exports have sharply slowed down with weekly shipments of beef muscle cuts to Korea in August 2009 at 725 metric tons per week compared to 3,031 metric tons per week at the same time last year. It is believed the Korean market alone could grow to become a one billion dollar per year market which would further boost cattle prices for U.S. producers. So, the impacts from the Korean and Japanese domestic initiatives may have far reaching impacts on the U.S. producer if those countries successfully impose the same rules for imports as they have for domestic product.

A major key to Brazilian acceptance of a mandatory livestock traceability system by Brazilian legislators was the simplification of the system of initially registering an animal and then tracking its movements from birth to export. The predecessor voluntary system in Brazil known as SISBOV is an RFID-based identification system with real-time electronic data collection and transmittal. While effective, this system is technologically sophisticated and beyond both the economic means and technological understanding of a large percentage of Brazilian producers. Embracing and actively promoting a simplified registration and tracking system by USDA, we believe, will go a long way towards helping reduce opposition to NAIS.

Even with all of these developments, make no mistake — NAIS is still on life support, and it may st
ill die. But when the market
place speaks and producers begin to feel the pinch or bulge in their wallets, or, God forbid, we have the type of catastrophic event Dr. Teagarden prophesies, even the most hardened producer will either adapt to the new reality or leave the business. Simplified technological approaches may help tip the scales, and we have seen within our own animal tracking commercial activities over the last eleven years that our simplified technologies are the ones most often embraced. As is so often the case, technology can pave the way towards adoption or rejection.

© Food Safety News
  • Barbara

    The anti-NAIS forces know better than to pronounce NAIS dead-on-arrival. We are quite aware that exporters (mostly Big Ag) that will benefit from this, don’t give a dam* that NAIS will do irreparable harm to small farms, and do nothing to stop the spread of a disease. In fact, the opposite is more likely true because it will create a black market for livestock. Don’t forget, that NAIS is intended to track ALL livestock including non-food species and pet livestock. It isn’t rumor that people with only a few chickens for personal use will have to register their private property and tag and track those birds that are shown or sold. Anyone who has read the Draft Plan or Business Plan is well aware of what they say.
    Registration of 90% of livestock owner properties cannot happen in the US if we give any credence to the Bill of Rights. It is only by violating our rights and treating Americans with the same disdain that some foreign governments treat their citizens, that this would be remotely possible. Are our international treaties now worth more than our civil rights? If this is so – and it seems to be – then USDA and Congress should admit it and stop pretending they are listening to the people. If over 90% of farmers oppose NAIS, how else will they get 90% registered?
    The USA is a net beef import nation. We don’t need our foreign markets, and consumers are not demanding to know what farm their dinner was born on. COOL provides all the information that consumers want, and NAIS is not necessary for that. Creating a burdensome, expensive system of tracking will drive farms out of business, which is exactly what Big Ag would like to see. Then they will control the entire market and dictate whatever prices they want. NAIS is a tool they will use for their benefit, and to the detriment of independent farms.
    It is in the best interest of the American people to say NO to NAIS.

  • Moocow

    The dispute is not about producers whining abouttagging animals but corporate control of the meat industries. Animal ID (NAIS) is solely about market control by vertical integration. It will close the market for the small producers and lowers international standards for the import market. Not having to go door to door is good lobbying but it is not true because the means to enforce reporting does not exist. In fact, technology does not exist to process animals at the speed of commerce.
    While NAIS is voluntary at the federal level, NAIS is ‘required’ in order to participate in value-added programs, diesease prevention programs, etc. USDA has used an ‘end around’ approach of requirements with the States and some would argue the ‘required’ and ‘mandated’ have the same meaning. Congress has also used the ‘end around’ funding approach by cutting NAIS and funding the ‘required’ through state universities. However, after the market is controlled value-added will be absolete and you have corporations managing the USDA. Corporations will be able to name their price which will outsource our agriculture to other countries and consumer prices will soar. And if you take a look at the food safety legislation, currently in the House and Senate, you will find that they also lower U.S. standards for the free-trade import market.
    Once you have read ALL the documents, cooperative agreements, OIE plans and legislations…It has nothing to do with food safety, only corporate profit and control. Follow the money!!

  • Ann

    Egregious NAIS rumors? How about going to the source: the USDA NAIS User Guide (December, 2007):
    “Animals that enter commerce or commingle with animals at other premises (e.g.,salesyards; State or national exhibits/shows) are the primary focus of NAIS.”
    A backyard chicken operation that buys replacement chicks from a hatchery would be engaged in commerce. A backyard chicken operation that sells or trades fowl with a neighbor is engaged in commerce. Someone who takes a horse to a veterinary clinic would be taking their horse to place where animals commingle. By the USDA’s definition, these animals are a primary focus of NAIS. The USDA has had ample opportunity to clarify their statements in writing, and they have not.
    Another definition: a premise is a location where one or more livestock reside. The USDA/Congress wants to register 90% of the premises, but does not know how many premises there are. The 35% figure is based on the USDA Ag census and is the number of respondents with gross sales over $2000 and who have livestock. Many horse owners, someone who keeps a few goats, chickens, or a cow/calf pair would not be included in the census count. In reality the number of signed-up premises is more like 10%-15% (Massachusetts premise enrollment is almost 3 times the census count). If one subtracts the mandatory registration in Wisconsin and Indiana plus the data mining “voluntary” enrollment done by Idaho, New York, and Massachusetts, the acceptance of NAIS, as measured by premise id sign-up, is dismal.
    For cattle producers who want to sell on the international markets, there are several source verification programs currently available. If their profits exceed the cost of these programs – great! If they think an RFID chip adds value – chip ’em! Raising cattle is hard work and these producers deserve a free market that rewards them. But, don’t think for one moment that those of us not chasing the international market are going to bankroll NAIS.

  • Ann

    MooCow – Speaking of following the money: According to the AgInfoLink website, Mr. Pape is the executive vice president and founder of AgInfoLink. AgInfoLink is one of the USDA’s approved Animal Tracking Databases.

  • Another very boring and not at all accurate article by another hack ‘journalist’ who is just doing as he is told.
    I’ll ask you, as I’ve asked for the last 5 years, what will you do when the government decides that some piece of property of yours needs to be kept tabs on because of trade treaties? Don’t laugh. I never once in my life thought that just because pork producers in Iowa want to sell meat to Japan I’d be put in the position to have to report the whereabouts of my horse to the USDA.
    Lastly, the true number of premises registered is more like 9%. Do the research.

  • Barbara

    Quote: Dr. Teagarden advocates a mandatory ID and traceability program that is consistent across state lines, and notes, “What voluntary system do any of you know that ever worked?”
    To this, I respond, What unpopular mandatory system has ever worked? Prohibition is a shining example how an unpopular government mandate is doomed to failure.

  • Barbara

    Now I understand the author’s support for NAIS. He is EVP of AgInfoLink which is in partnership with USDA to provide NAIS compliant services. As always, NAIS supporters almost invariably will reap the benefits of this disastrous plan, and I’d be willing to bet Mr Pape has never owned livestock.

  • Mr. Pape owns cattle and they are ID’d.

  • Barbara

    Good for him. He is supporting his own business. Does he do the work himself, or pay someone else to do it? Are they kept on the private property he lives at?
    I own horses and I don’t need or want an ID. For me, it’s an extra, unnecessary expense. So why should I have to accept it to help him out? I’m sure my income is much lower than his.

  • Ann

    “Embracing and actively promoting a simplified registration and tracking system by USDA, we believe, will go a long way towards helping reduce opposition to NAIS.”
    If this statement was meant to imply that a paper-based system would be acceptable, the USDA is very mistaken. First of all the 48-hour traceability goal could not be met, and the accuracy of the data would be degraded. This would confirm that 48-hour traceability was in reality a bunch of USDA fear-mongering hooey and cause further damage to their credibility. Secondly the benefit/cost analysis would no longer be valid. The clerical costs for a paper-based animal tracking database (ATD) system would skyrocket, and one would assume that the cost would be passed back to the producer. The authors of the Kansas State Benefit/Cost analysis reported that the ATDs would not provide them the information needed for their cost analysis (presumably this included AgInfoLink) so the authors made up a number: 8.5 cents per transaction, for a totally computer-based system.
    Perhaps Mr.Pape would be willing to address why AgInfoLink did not cooperate with the Kansas State study (and what kind of service would AgInfoLink provide to a mandated customer base?) and also confirm if 8.5 cents per transaction was accurate. If he could provide information projecting the producers’ cost for the paper-based, simplified AgInfoLink system, it would give us all a heads-up in evaluating the proposal. For members of Congress and other out-of-touch bureaucrats, each paper-based report would need to be mailed, and the cost of a postage stamp is currently 44 cents.

  • 48 hour traceability only comes into play for fast moving contagions like FMD. FMD is not in this country but is is in countries that ship products to us. A better solution to the FMD problem is to stop trading with countries that do not have their own diseases under control. Once we let FMD in it is too late. Lets close the doors of trade to those countries that potentially could destroy our livestock industries.

  • moocow

    Ann,you are correct about Mr. Pape and those who have studied NAIS also know that it was authored by the NIAA through the OIE in Belgium, Germany.

  • Steve Butler

    As a consumer of beef I and the majority of U.S. consumers are 100% in favor of a mandatory NAIS program!

  • moocow

    Please post a reference on your position that NAIS includes “consumer food safety”.

  • Barbara

    Would you be OK with it, if I spend your money and violate your civil rights for no useful purpose? Do you eat horse or llama?
    I’m also a beef consumer and you don’t speak for me. For that matter, you don’t speak for most consumers who aren’t even aware of the existence of NAIS. NAIS will destroy our independent cattlemen, and lead to more beef being imported from countries that have lower standards than ours. Personally, I’d rather buy American, and I’d rather support our ranchers than the corporate meat packers.
    Also, in case you aren’t aware, USDA stated in the 2006 NAIS User Guide http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/naislibrary/documents/guidelines/User_Guide.html#part1
    that NAIS is NOT a food safety system. QUOTE: “Additionally, NAIS is not a food safety protection system. The United States already has a comprehensive system of food safety policies, testing, and inspection requirements in place to ensure the safety of our products.”
    IOW, it does nothing to protect the consumer.

  • Steve,
    I am not a beef consumer. I do not trust the safety of our beef supply. Not since the USDA has kept the trade open with Canada the only source of BSE to contaminate our meat supply. I do not support NAIS. NAIS is not capable of protecting us from unsafe meat. The meat we consumed last week or 3 years ago can only be traced to the processing plant that handled it and not beyond and NAIS ends at the slaughterhouse.
    The idea that NAIS will in anyway protect our food supply is totally false. Anyone who believes our food is safe because of a program such as NAIS needs to have their head examined for they may be showing the early signs of BSE!

  • To Steve Butler…if you are in favor of NAIS, then I say unequivocally, you know nothing about it. You haven’t read a single document because if you had you’d know that the ear tag comes off at slaughter and does no good in tracing ground beef coming from multiple countries.
    Just curious…are you the same Prominent land use attorney Steve Butler has been selected as member of the Sonoma County Fair Board of Directors. It makes a difference knowing if you are really a consumer or have a…wait for it….an agenda.

  • Ann

    Steve, please post a link supporting your statement that the majority of U.S. consumers support a 100% mandatory NAIS. Whenever I have mentioned NAIS to Dallas-area suburban/urban consumers, the response is that they have never heard of it. And when I explain how it works, their next response is disbelief that their tax money is being spent on NAIS.

  • Bill

    National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is supposed to be ONLY for animal DISEASE TRACKING.
    NAIS cannot realistically be used for food safety. The tag comes off when the hide comes off. Cuts of meat from different cattle from different sources are often intermingled, unless you are using a local butcher. Some cheaply obtained foreign imported cuts of meat are mixed in with the domestic cuts for some hamburger in larger packing operations. Some large burger chains import cheaper priced foreign beef because they don’t want to pay the price of U.S. produced beef. Beef packers and large burger chains want to be able to use NAIS as legal shelter from lawsuits that they create, not the producer.
    Using the food safety supporter’s logic, if NAIS is about food safety, then I can go to a burger store or a steakhouse and they should be able to tell me what farm my burger or steak came from before I purchase it. They currently won’t even tell you what country it came from. Big business beat that in the Country of Origin Labelling law.
    NAIS covers horses and their slaughter for meat is outlawed in the U.S., so how is that food safety? Anybody eat llama or alpaca? they are covered too. I don’t understand why dogs and cats aren’t covered. Ever heard of rabies? Probably too much political outcry would occur for dogs and cats.
    NAIS is not supposed to be used for Beef Quality Assurance, big businesses, marketing alliances, etc… USDA lost my support when all of those people started talking about how you could use NAIS for their systems. That told me that “USDA officials and state veterinarians” would not be the only people using the information. Other people will use the information for other purposes and the cattle producer won’t get a dime from it.
    I teach information security in my day job and I cannot tell you how many, many holes I see for exploiting the information for other purposes than NAIS. Those fragmented systems mentioned in the article are a whole lot more secure than what is proposed in NAIS. Every government agency has had a data loss or information security breach at some time.
    When the first case of BSE closed the U.S. borders, I did not see a drop in demand or the price of my seedstock cattle because I do not sell to international markets and I don’t have that many culls. So I was able to wait for the feeder and live markets to recover. But to hear the experts, “closed borders and export markets affect everyone.” Bullshit! and I’ve got receipts to prove it. Exporters want to use others for their advantage and exporters get the money. The same way with vertical integration of the cattle industry. Big business wants to run out or virtually enslave the small owners of cattle to their system. I thought we lived in a free country?
    “egregious NAIS rumors running unchallenged in the countryside (e.g., backyard farmers with only a few chickens for home use or sale to friends will have to tag and track each animal)” – this is not an egregious rumor it is NAIS fact.
    The spread of a bad disease will come from veterinarians wanting people with sick animals to transport the animals to their clinic for diagnosis and testing. The vet I use is thirty miles away. Vets charge significant fees for farm visits because they have to make up the money they lost treating dogs, cats, etc… in the comfort of their clinic. According to USDA rules, animals with infectious diseases are NOT supposed to leave the farm. I have also driven across most of central and southern US through the years. I have never seen a livestock check station open and checking animals at state borders. Doing a great job of protecting the country from disease there.
    For the fear mongers trying to get business off of NAIS, I seriously doubt there will be another case of US born-BSE. That is if the govt. is doing its job. The youngest a US-born case of BSE could be now is 12 years old. The droughts and higher live cattle prices a few years ago have caused most cattlemen to already cull those older cows. The dairies don’t keep them that long and they also had a big cull this year for milk price reasons. If we have another case of BSE, it will come from IMPORTED cattle like the first case. Secure our borders from diseased animals and enforce the regulations you already have.
    Everybody talks about the high price of tags, readers, software, computers, etc… with implmenting NAIS. Nobody talks about the extra labor costs involved with implementing NAIS. They assume that everyone who has a few cattle owns their land, has a squeeze chute to work cattle in (some people I know don’t even have a chute of any kind.) They assume that they are young enough to work the cattle themselves or they have a bunch of cowhands on the payroll. I will win if NAIS is implemented, because I do some of that occasional day work. I will charge my own extra fee if I have to report every time I take my horse off of my place to help a neighbor tag their animals. So add a few hundred to thousand dollars per year to the cost of the producer to implement NAIS.

  • Bill,
    I agree with 99% of what you have said. However, you cannot say there will not be another case of US born-BSE so long as BSE is a problem in Canada and we continue to import cattle and meat from that source. Until Canada is clean of BSE we should not be placing our livestock industry at risk.
    See http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/anima/heasan/disemala/bseesb/bseesbindexe.shtml for more information on BSE in Canada.

  • Bill

    Thomas, Sorry for the long post. You must not have seen where I said, “If we have another case of BSE, it will come from IMPORTED cattle like the first case. Secure our borders from diseased animals and enforce the regulations you already have.”

  • Thanks Bill,
    You are right I missed the IMPORTED part.

  • Barbara

    I’ve noticed that our questions to the proNAIS writers have gone unanswered. They must still be looking for the proof of their opinions.