One cannot help but wonder if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has bitten off more than it can chew when it comes to tracking animals.

Five years and $147 million after USDA opted to implement an animal tracking system based on the Australian model, it’s far from a done deal.

cattle-feature.jpgIn fact, in late November, USDA and Congress both received letters signed by 100 agricultural groups advocating death for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

NAIS, says the letter from the Ag groups, “is an ill-conceived, burdensome, and badly implemented solution for achieving the national objective of improving animal disease prevention and control in the United States.”

Australia, the second largest exporter of beef from a continent that is “Mad Cow” free, has a “birth-to-death” tracking system for its farm animals that uses a national database to keep track of every ownership change.

The system, which was up and running by 2006, uses an encrypted ear tag that uses a 15-digit number to identify the animal.   The tag transmits the number to machines whenever animals are moved or sold, and the data is ultimately uploaded to the national database of Australia’s 28 million head of cattle.

According to the Yakima Herald Republic, a Washington State daily newspaper that sent a reporter to Australia to check the system out, ranchers and producers down under have no choice about participating in the program.  Fines for noncompliance are $930 US, plus court costs.

In addition, each sale pays $4.50 per head to Meat and Livestock Australia, a privately owned company that runs the tracking program in addition to international marketing, research, and development activities.

Australian cattleman Ray Campbell with a 26,000-acre cattle ranch in Cloncurry told the visiting Herald Republic there is general acceptance of the system. “It gives us lifelong traceability,” he said. “It gives us an edge in the world market.  Australian beef is known as clean and green.”

Canada opted for a system that is not as comprehensive as Australia’s, but rather “bookends” the ownership records at birth and immediately prior to slaughter.   Canadian cattlemen believe that information would during emergencies give officials enough to go on for obtaining more information from private records.

According to the Herald Republic, the Canada Food Inspection Agency carries out more than 2,000 trace-backs a year to investigate potential outbreaks of diseases.  These cases include anthrax, mange, mad cow, and bovine tuberculosis.

  • Mrs. Sabo

    Please don’t forget that during the recent Listening Sessions held around the country, over 90% of the attendees provided numerous valid reasons why participation in the NAIS program would be detrimental to smaller producers.
    “According to the Yakima Herald Republic, a Washington State daily newspaper that sent a reporter to Australia to check the system out, ranchers and producers down under have no choice about participating in the program. Fines for noncompliance are $930 US, plus court costs.”
    Please also remember that the largest fine levied early this fall in AU was $10,000 – far beyond the reach of most American livestock owners.
    By following the two active cases in Wisconsin one can see what is in store for the rest of the Nation.
    NAIS should be dead on arrival. Instead it is being morphed into a system that if implemented as proposed will cost U.S. Consumers jobs, availability of locally grown meat products and Safety.

  • Bill

    Why is NAIS being covered by a food safety web site?
    National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is proposed to be ONLY for animal DISEASE TRACKING.
    NAIS cannot realistically be used for food safety.
    The ear tag comes off when the hide comes off. Cuts of meat from different cattle from different sources are often co-mingled, 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 ecoli-related food safety 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 agri-business got that stopped in the Country of Origin Labelling law. The COOL law was where your food safety concerns should have been addressed. If restaurants are not obligated to tell me what country my burger, steak, chicken, fish, shrimp,etc… came from, then why are we worried about pinpointing it to an American farm?
    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 under NAIS too. I don’t understand why dogs and cats aren’t covered. Ever heard of the highly infectious diseases rabies, parvo, etc…? Some cultures eat dogs and cats.

  • Barbara

    Why is Food Safety News still talking about NAIS which isn’t a food safety system? Let me quote from the 2006 NAIS User Guide, page 9 of the PDF under the section Why NAIS?
    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.
    Anyone who suggests that NAIS will enhance food safety is wrong.
    And please don’t believe that Australian cattlemen are happy with NLIS. Watch these videos of John Carter-past President of the Australian Beef Assn. for the truth.