Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

NAIS Dead, Food Safety Not A Goal

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack killed the $142 million National Animal Identification System (NAIS), and any hope it might contribute to food safety, last week.

At a meeting of state agriculture commissioners, Vilsack said the NAIS as conceived after the discovery of Mad Cow disease in the United States in 2003 had proven to be vastly unpopular with America’s farmers and ranchers.

It will be replaced with the “Animal Disease Traceability Framework.”  A fact sheet on the new program published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says the new program “only focuses on animal health and aims to assist USDA in quickly finding out where diseased animals have been and what other animals they might come into contact with.  Animal disease traceability isn’t a food safety program.”

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will be in charge of the new animal disease traceability program with its responsibility ending at slaughter.  USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is supposed to be able to trace processed meat back to its sources.

Animals that show up at the slaughterhouse showing signs of disease will supposedly be tracked back to their original herd.

USDA says it spent $120 million of the funds allocated to NAIS, but was only able to get 36 percent of producers to participate.  With NAIS failing as he took over, Vilsack had USDA hold 15 “listening sessions” around the country last year.

More than eight of ten people participating in the heavily attended sessions opposed NAIS.

Vilsack is promising the new program will be more limited and more flexible, relying on the states and Indian tribes.  It will be limited to animals that cross state lines, and therefore enter interstate commerce.   NAIS would have applied to every animal in the country, and many said that exceeded USDA’s constitutional authority.

John Clifford, USDA’s deputy administrator at APHIS, said it would build on animal identification systems already in place to fight brucellosis, tuberculosis and other diseases with simple ear tags.

Many in rural America feared a system based on implants and reading radio frequencies would cost many dollars per animal for the fancy technology with no discernable benefit.

The death of NAIS is a big win for Montana-based R-CALF.  Bill Bullard, chief executive officer for R-CALF, said he was very pleased to have USDA reverting back to a system based on the one used for brucellosis.

R-CALF stands for the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund-United Stockgrowers of America.

Carol Tucker Foreman, a food safety expert at the Consumer Federation of America, expressed doubts about a “state by state” program.  She agreed NAIS was not working and needed to be changed.

NAIS was the Bush Administration’s response to the 2003 discovery in Yakima County, Washington of a cow from Canada that was infected with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease.

BSE is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease that causes a spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cords of cattle. It has a long incubation period, usually lasting about four years.   NAIS grew out of a fear that a mandatory program was needed to track animal histories over their lifetime.

It was unpopular from the start, and the Bush-era USDA made it voluntary and used cash incentives to farm and ranch groups to gain enlistments.

© Food Safety News
  • Karen

    If you go back and read the original NAIS documents, you will find that NAIS was NEVER meant to be used for food safety. The USDA was quite clear about that. That animal ID that you hoped would provide traceability ended at the entry to the slaughterhouse so how could it?
    What bears mentioning is that NAIS was conceived long before the first case of mad cow disease. It was, in fact, nothing more than a scam conceived by the tag/microchip/software manufacturers who saw great profits to be made. That first case of mad cow disease provided the vehicle for these companies to push a solution looking for a problem.
    Instead, NAIS would have made food LESS safe as it drove out all but the massive factory farms.

  • M Dodson

    Dear Mr. Flynn,
    Animal ID has nothing to do with food safety!!
    I assure you that there is already a tracking system in place that has stood the test of time. The traceability problem is from the slaughterhouse to the consumer and has nothing to do with the farm.
    National Animal ID is about market control, period. In fact, it will lower food safety measures for the purpose of importing more inferior meat from God only knows what country.
    Same is true with the HACCP (so called safety program). Never before in history have we had so many recalls because it allows the meat processors to get around the testing and again lowers safety measures for the purpose of importing meat from other countries.
    I think that your consumers are smart enough to know that they do not want to outsource American agriculture and import more food from China.

  • jmunsell

    I totally disagree with the heading on this article which states that food safety is not a goal. The costs involved in implementing this ill-designed NAIS would be astronomical, compared to the small (if any) benefit which would be derived from NAIS. While folks know that I favor a much-increased involvement in government oversight of the meat industry, I am opposed to government mandated programs which require an onerous and unnecessary paper trail and technology with limited if any value. Current livestock records, if complied with, provide the necessary traceback mechanism to determine the origin of cattle.
    USDA had adroitly avoided discussing the “overkill” nature of NAIS, in which livestock producers, no matter how small, would be forced to immediately document the movement of animals into a neighbor’s pasture or any other short-term movements over even short distances. It’s ironic that while USDA has intentionally deregulated the largest slaughter establishments, it has simultaneously hyper-regulated all small meat plants, and likewise desires to hyper-regulate all movements of livestock, no matter how few the number of animals is or even for movements across a county road…..all at great expense to the producers.
    USDA now allows movement of live animals from Canada into America, even though Canada has now documented ? 18 ? cases of BSE-positive animals in the Canadian herd, and around 50% of these positives were for animals were were born AFTER Canada implemented its ruminant feed ban. Why has USDA opened our border with precious little scrutiny of Canada’s live animals? Because the big, multinational packers benefit via unrestricted global trade, not burdened down with public health concerns America (or other countries) have the sovereign right to impose. When domestic livestock prices are elevated, the big packers can then reduce purchases of domestic livestock, and increase purchases of imported meat from countries around the globe, most of which have meat inspection requirements and public health protocol greatly inferior to those in the USA.
    NAIS and contemporary meat inspection are similar in that both insulate the big packers from accountability, while regulating the small business operations out of business. Perhaps we shouldn’t care about the continued destruction of rural America and burgeoning unemployment, while we import an increasing amount of food every year, increasing our dependence on other countries instead of providing an incentive to “The Bread Basket Of The World” to supply our domestic needs.
    The big packers endorse NAIS, because (1) NAIS imposes no burdens on them, and (2) provides them a plethora of paperwork to cover their butts in the event a diseased animal is detected on their premises. If the big packers are truly proactive in determining the origin of bad meat and sick animals, why are the big packers opposed to (a) Tracebacks to the slaughterhouse of origin, and (b) Country of Origin labeling (COOL)? Answer: because tracebacks to the slaughterhouse of origin would reveal systemic and ongoing insanitary conditions at slaughterhouses, and prevent them from blending meat from a variety of countries into one undifferentiated protein pool from unnamed origins.
    Please know that NAIS had nothing to do with food safety, but everything to do with increased government control and regulating domestic producers out of business, while promoting free global trade absent public health considerations.
    John Munsell

  • John Munsell

    I totally disagree with the heading on this article which states that food safety is not a goal. The costs involved in implementing this ill-designed NAIS would be astronomical, compared to the small (if any) benefit which would be derived from NAIS. While folks know that I favor a much-increased involvement in government oversight of the meat industry, I am opposed to government mandated programs which require an onerous and unnecessary paper trail and technology with limited if any value. Current livestock records, if complied with, provide the necessary traceback mechanism to determine the origin of cattle.
    USDA had adroitly avoided discussing the “overkill” nature of NAIS, in which livestock producers, no matter how small, would be forced to immediately document the movement of animals into a neighbor’s pasture or any other short-term movements over even short distances. It’s ironic that while USDA has intentionally deregulated the largest slaughter establishments, it has simultaneously hyper-regulated all small meat plants, and likewise desires to hyper-regulate all movements of livestock, no matter how few the number of animals is or even for movements across a county road…..all at great expense to the producers.
    USDA now allows movement of live animals from Canada into America, even though Canada has now documented ? 18 ? cases of BSE-positive animals in the Canadian herd, and around 50% of these positives were for animals were were born AFTER Canada implemented its ruminant feed ban. Why has USDA opened our border with precious little scrutiny of Canada’s live animals? Because the big, multinational packers benefit via unrestricted global trade, not burdened down with public health concerns America (or other countries) have the sovereign right to impose. When domestic livestock prices are elevated, the big packers can then reduce purchases of domestic livestock, and increase purchases of imported meat from countries around the globe, most of which have meat inspection requirements and public health protocol greatly inferior to those in the USA.
    NAIS and contemporary meat inspection are similar in that both insulate the big packers from accountability, while regulating the small business operations out of business. Perhaps we shouldn’t care about the continued destruction of rural America and burgeoning unemployment, while we import an increasing amount of food every year, increasing our dependence on other countries instead of providing an incentive to “The Bread Basket Of The World” to supply our domestic needs.
    The big packers endorse NAIS, because (1) NAIS imposes no burdens on them, and (2) provides them a plethora of paperwork to cover their butts in the event a diseased animal is detected on their premises. If the big packers are truly proactive in determining the origin of bad meat and sick animals, why are the big packers opposed to (a) Tracebacks to the slaughterhouse of origin, and (b) Country of Origin labeling (COOL)? Answer: because tracebacks to the slaughterhouse of origin would reveal systemic and ongoing insanitary conditions at slaughterhouses, and prevent them from blending meat from a variety of countries into one undifferentiated protein pool from unnamed origins.
    Please know that NAIS had nothing to do with food safety, but everything to do with increased government control and regulating domestic producers out of business, while promoting free global trade absent public health considerations.
    John Munsell

  • http://nonais.org Esbee

    Past history is doomed to be repeated unless we learn from it.
    Apparently the USDA has no regard for history such as the Stalin-made Ukrainian famine of the 1930′s, as they continue to force NAIS, no matter how dead they say it is, on American livestock owners.
    Under Stalin, millions of farm owners/worker/families were forcibly starved to death, shot by soldiers, sent to concentration camps because they did not want to give up ownership of their lands. They could not even eat what they grew, because it ALL went to the global market. The modernization and globalization of Russian farms took a heavy, tragic toll. Those collective farms lie in ruins today as the idea just did not work!!! Nor will NAIS!