Speak Your Piece: Tag EVERY Animal?

Pork and ChopThe U.S. Department of Agriculture is pushing regulations that would require every farm animal to be tagged and tracked. Every animal?

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Pork and ChopSharon Zecchinelli's hogs, Pork and Chop, would have to be individually tagged.
Photo:Vince Zecchinelli

As my friends and I rode our horses the other day in the Cold Hollow Mountains of Vermont, I tried to savor the moment. Besides hearing the grunt of a moose, whose retreating tracks we saw on the ride back down the mountain trail, there was sign of a big deer alongside a set of canine tracks. I made note of the place where some partridges rose up out of the bush. Here and there fall colors were beginning to appear in the sugar bush.

I sighed, as I always do, thinking about how these days of having the freedom and liberty to own and ride horses with friends could be slipping away due to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

NAIS is a mandate ““ not a law ““ dreamt up by various federal acronyms: the USDA (United Stated Department of Agriculture); the APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services); and the NIAA (National Institute for Animal Agriculture). The idea of NAIS is to supposedly trace back disease in the “national herd" within 48 hours of its discovery.

(It is worth perusing NIAA’s membership list to understand who will benefit from NAIS. In other words, follow the money.)Sharon Zecchinelli

Sharon Zecchinelli and Merry Grace (who would require an ID chip embedded in her neck).
Photo:Vince Zecchinelli

NAIS has three prongs: premises registration, animal identification and animal movement reporting. Here’s how these are supposed to work to identify every farm and farm animal in the country:

Premises Registration: Every property that houses even one livestock animal must register to receive a premises ID number. Anybody with a chicken, horse, cow, sheep, goat, bison, llama, alpaca, turkey, duck, or a backyard trout farm will be required to register. (One of the pesky problems is that the premises ID number may remove your clear rights to ownership. When you register your property you become an ill-defined “stakeholder.")

Animal Identification Number (AIN): Numbers are assigned by group, lot or individually. So, if a large Midwest feeder lot has 10,000 beeves on an in/out lot they get one number (AIN). But someone like me, with a flock of laying hens, a couple of pigs or sheep, some meat birds and a horse would have to individually tag each animal. For horses they prefer an RFID tag inserted along the nuchal ligament in the area of the 4th and 5th vertebrae.

Other AIN tags are RFID ear button tags with a 15-digit number starting with 840. The ISO country code for the United States is 840. It is interesting to note that the number 840 is included on all financial instruments, like stocks, checks, and bearable securities like as dollar bills. See? So grows the “National Herd."

Animals that don’t need to have AINs are animals that never leave the place of their birth or animals that are moved from their place of birth to slaughter.

Animal Tracing: This final component requires that animal movements be reported to a database owned by private industry or by state agriculture agencies. Under this provision, animal movements need to be reported. (This used to be called Animal Tracking but when the anti-NAIS grassroots protest was heard, USDA began changing terms to make it seem like they were listening.)

The USDA issued its NAIS User’s Guide on Thanksgiving Eve 2006 and it was entered into the Federal Register in February 2007. The department began using phrases like “voluntary at the Federal level" and it seemed the USDA had softened its position with regard to small farmers, homesteaders, hobbyists and backyard horse owners. Indeed, before the User’s Guide appeared, the original Draft Plan was strict, harsh, uncompromising.

The Zecchenelli FarmThe Zecchenelli Farm in Fall.
Photo:Vince Zecchinelli

The USDA announced, quietly, grant opportunities for fund-starved state agriculture departments. Under these so-called cooperative agreements, states were required to implement measures aimed at ramping up premises registration numbers. Since then the 4-H and FFA have received USDA grant money that essentially forces children into registering their family’s land. For example, earlier this month the Colorado State Fair ejected some 4-H junior livestock entries because they hadn’t registered the premises of their project animal. One father registered so that his daughter’s project pig could compete.

(Meanwhile, the USDA issued a How-To-Handbook this past February. It was meant to be a confidential document for state and federal staff, instructing them how to promote a “voluntary" NAIS. The Handbook demands uniformity and strict adherence to four “key messages" that staff are to present to audiences of farmers when promoting NAIS. The Agriculture Department apparently doesn’t believe animal owners are very skilled readers. As described by the USDA, these “key messages”¦are organized into topic categories and supported with concise sentences. They are designed for an audience reading at the sixth grade level." (Handbook, p. 41.)

The How-To-Handbook asks state agriculture agencies to weigh the option of registering properties by “data-dumping" information about property from existing programs into the new animal tracking program. The idea was to determine first if that would be tolerated by landowners. Some states decided to data-dump first and ask questions later by registering premises behind the backs of farmers. Wisconsin and New York have registered Amish property in spite of their objections to the Mark of the Beast as cited in Revelations.Vermont in late September 2007

Vermont, late September, 2007.
Photo:Vince Zecchinelli

USDA continues to march forward with its plans to make NAIS mandatory. (Makes that “voluntary" with a capital M.) In August, the department published Advancing Animal Disease Traceability, a blueprint for how the USDA is going to impose NAIS by requiring "common data standards" (mandatory use of NAIS ID numbers and tracing) in existing disease programs and interstate shipping. This explains why NAIS was stripped from the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law in the House version of the Farm Bill — because with this scheme, they don’t need a law, just regulations.

NAIS should alarm everyone. If USDA is allowed to continue with NAIS, small/private farmers, homesteaders, hobbyists will drop their animals like hot potatoes. Some have already, sadly, preferring to give up their animals rather than fight.

If that happens (which is what NIAA hopes will happen) what will be the source of organic manure to feed organic produce? It won’t be small producers. And this is the point: NAIS isn't all about farmers. It will impact the consumer. Imagine a world where the only "organics" come from Monsanto-owned farms.


Sharon Zecchinelli, is a retired chef and small homesteader who lives in NW Vermont with her husband, a flock of hens, the occasional freezer lamb or pig, horse and two dogs. She can be reached via email at [email protected] Her blog is Post Menopausal Ponderings. For more information about NAIS visit NoNais.org or alternately Google up NAIS opposition.


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