AnalysisQuestions raised about national animal identification program

Published 20 January 2006

One of the more ambitious homeland security programs calls for tagging 27 different species of animals on U.S. farms and ranches by 2009, but critics say that it will drive small farmers out of business

Let us take another look at one of the more ambitious homeland security programs to be launched since 9/11, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The program will force farmers, hobbyists, and even pet owners to register each animal they own, and tag that animal with an identifying tag, band, or implanted electronic chip, for the purpose of tracking that animal through the food chain whether or not it even enters the food chain. When fully implemented in January of 2009, the NAIS will require two types of mandatory registration: registration of the premises, and registration of the animal.

Anyone who owns even one horse, cow, pig, sheep, chicken, pigeon, or any other livestock animal will be required to register their home, including the owner’s name and other identifying information, along with the address of the farm or home, to be keyed to global positioning system (GPS) coordinates in a federal database under a seven-digit “premises ID number.” Additionally, each animal will have to be identified with a fifteen-digit ID number, also to be kept in the federal database. Even if you are raising your own food, your animal will be required to have an ID number if it is to be sent to a slaughterhouse. Animals that do not have an ID number cannot be bought or sold, or used to obtain stud service. Any animal that leaves the owner’s premises for any reason will be required to have an ID number, and be tagged. This includes animals that are shown, as well as horses that may be ridden off of the owner’s property.

Note that large-scale meat producers are on board with the program: The administration has given them a break in that large herds of cattle, pigs, or other animals raised and processed together can be identified by a single group ID number. Farmers and ranchers with small groups of animals will, in most cases, have to identify each animal individually for purposes of breeding, sale, or slaughter. If one owns two cows, a horse, and twelve chickens, each would require an individual ID number if the animal is ever to leave your property for any reason, or have any contact with any other animal.

Critics of NAIS fear that the Bush administration’s coziness with large meat producers — already reflected in the tagging concessions made to the meat industry — would lead to this industry’s representatives running the program when it is fully implemented. Even if the program enhances the safety of the U.S. food supply, one of its consequences will likely be to drive small farmers out of business. Large meat producers would pass the cost of animal tagging and reporting to consumers, but smaller farmers may not be able to cope with the requirement of tagging individual animals and reporting these animals’ every move.

-read more in Ken Anderson’s informative Magic City Morning Star article; and see NAIS Web site