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Program will register all livestock
Florida will pilot new program for identifying, tracking animals

Baker County Standard | April 7 2006

As part of its ongoing efforts to safeguard animal health, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated the implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in 2004. NAIS is a cooperative State-Federal-industry partnership to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species and poultry. NAIS is being developed through the integration of three phases; premises identification, animal identification, and animal tracking.

The long-term goal of the NAIS is to provide animal health officials with the capability to identify all livestock and premises that have had direct contact with a disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery. USDA has adopted a phased-in approach to implementation, that will include premise registration and animal tagging. Although the draft plan references mandatory requirements in 2008 and beyond, to date no actions have been initiated by USDA to develop regulations to require participation in NAIS.

Currently Florida is running a pilot program to register beef and dairy cattle. Phase one calls for premise registration of all property that houses livestock, whether that be a single pet goat or a herd of cattle. The State Veterinarian for Florida, Doctor Tom Holt has determined that there will be no charge for premise registration and that the program will be voluntary. More than $500,000 in funding has come from the federal government over the past two years to implement the program. Other states are charging for registration.

Florida's NAIS Program Coordinator Stephen Monroe said, "We do want to work toward registration of all food species producers and equine owners. That would include every goat, chicken, cow, pig and horse. Full implementation is to have trace back ability for every animal. We are already seeing some dealers requesting this before they will make purchases. It seems the market is going to dictate utilization of this before the government will have to mandate it."

In Baker County, County Extension Director Mike Sweat is aware of the new program. "We are starting to begin animal ID workshops in the area to provide basic info on what to expect. The program is completely run be USDA. I think the program is needed to provide a method of trace back in the event of a problem in the food chain or disease outbreak. If I were showing my animal at the county fair, I would want to know if it could be exposed to a diseased animal that had a problem," he said.

Although NAIS is currently a voluntary program, small farmers and livestock owners are raising concerns about the long term costs and effects it will have on them. Numerous web sites and grassroots efforts have sprung up around the country seeking to halt the program.

They cite increased costs for small producers to tag each animal while big agri-businesses are going to be allowed to use group IDs. The program is being formulated with the assistance of large industry.

In addition to paperwork costs, questions about who will pay for the registration once government funding runs out, are being asked. The need for another government program to inspect and register animals is another source of concern about too much interference in citizens property rights.

"They are taking away our freedoms a little by a little. I wonder what they are going to tag next, after the animals. It even specifies that eventually they want to register every dog and cat. My understanding is that once fully implemented, which is a goal by 2008, they can fine you or even come on your property and seize or slaughter your animals. You talk about big brother breathing over your shoulder, this program will do that. The duplicity of politicians is amazing," said local animal rights advocate Patricia Cornell.

The long term effects of the program on county fairs and the ability of 4-H and FFA students to complete even more paperwork and possibly pay costs has not yet been fully evaluated. However in Texas, where fees have already been implemented, one 4-H leader is having to sell her horses because she can't afford them any longer, according to the website NoNAIS.org.

Baker County Fair Association Vice President Chuck Brannan, who is also the Live Stock Chairman commented, "We already have numerous tests and inspections for our livestock which are very strict. This will just add another layer which we will have to comply with."

The full scope of the program's effect will have to be determined as it is phased in. But citizens who raise and love animals need to educate themselves on the pros and cons involved.

 

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