Animal Tagging Plan Put On Back Burner
A panel of experts gathered to help with a government study of the federal plan to tag all farm animals agrees the current scheme should be abandoned.
USDA's animal tagging program has sparked a mini-revolt among many rural residents. Neal Foley has put together a group of anti-NAIS logos.
Many livestock producers have never been happy with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s plan to tag and trace each American farm animal. In late summer, a panel of experts assembled by the Government Accountability Office agreed, nearly unanimously, that USDA’s plan was so flawed the agency should start over. Now, a veteran farm writer reports the current incarnation of the National Animal Identification System is nearly dead.
Philip Brasher, a reporter for the Des Moines Register, wrote Sunday that USDA’s animal identification system could “be headed the way of Social Security reform." Brasher notes that the USDA budget passed by the House contains not a cent for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Chris Waldrop, with the Consumer Federation, told Brasher the animal tagging scheme “doesn’t seem salvageable." The USDA has “mishandled it and Congress is fed up with them, producers are fed up with them and consumers are fed up with them," Waldrop said.
Brasher reported that House Agriculture chair, Rep. Collin Peterson (a Minnesota Democrat), said he had given up on NAIS until a new administration is in place.
The Government Aaccount Office’s report on NAIS, issued in July, was hardly a vote of approval for the USDA’s efforts. The government investigators found a program in disarray.
The GAO criticized the USDA for waffling between making the program voluntary or mandatory, a bureaucratic two-step that caused confusion among regulators and producers. (The GAO said any tagging system should be mandatory.) The GAO also faulted the USDA for not establishing a priority for which animals should be tagged first and for failing to integrate NAIS with existing animal identification programs. The USDA hadn't counted either the costs or the benefits of such a program.
The GAO assembled a panel of 32 experts to review the NAIS program. The experts were in near unanimous agreement that some type of identification scheme was necessary, especially for cattle. (The experts were less concerned about tagging every llama.)
However, 20 out of the 32 experts said they did not favor of the current USDA plan.
A slim majority of the panel agreed that a full NAIS scheme would further integrate the livestock markets. In particular, half the experts said that a national tagging program would increase the number of animals raised under contract with large buyers.
Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa said the GAO study “confirms the concerns producers and livestock market operators had about USDA's animal ID plan for some time now: that is USDA has much further work to do so that this system is on the right track and workable." USDA has already altered its program to meet the criticism in the GAO report. The department is set to issue a new NAIS plan that scales back its original intent to tag and track every farm animal.
Meanwhile, opposition to the current form of NAIS is expanding. For example, last week the justices of the peace in Batesville, Arkansas, voted unanimously to support a resolution that opposed NAIS.
How quickly is your state signing up farms under NAIS? The USDA keeps a record, updated weekly. Below is the latest accounting.