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New USDA NAIS User Guide

The USDA has just published a new plan for implementing the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), entitled: "National Animal Identification System (NAIS): A User Guide and Additional Information Resources." See

USDA's document is written to convince the public that NAIS is a good idea, that it will be voluntary, and that we have nothing to worry about. That message is far from the whole truth, however. The USDA appears to be tailoring their message based on complaints received, while maintaining the same end result. The following analysis is based on an initial review of the new plan, and only covers the highlights. We will publish an in-depth analysis on our Website in the near future, and will be submitting comments to the USDA. We encourage you to let us know what flaws and omissions you find in the document. Please email us at:

The User Guide is Not a Final, Complete Document

The User Guide is clearly marked "DRAFT." Remember that this is not the final plan, and it is subject to change, not necessarily for the better. Once NAIS becomes operational, all the promises in this version can be changed by USDA at their pleasure. Federal agencies are supposed to base their rules on law, but the USDA has created and implemented this massive program based on nothing more than a couple of vague references in a federal statute that in no way refers to NAIS. The plan is written by bureaucrats at USDA, not by Congress.

The User Guide states that it replaces all previous USDA plans for NAIS. But essentially, the same people wrote all of the documents, and the previous documents are, therefore, still relevant to revealing how these people think, and their ultimate goals. In practical terms, the User Guide cannot supplant all previous documents. The User Guide does not contain technical information such as the requirements for Animal Identification Number (AIN) tags or the databases. Working under the earlier documents, the USDA has already approved AIN Manufacturers and database managers. The USDA also has cooperative agreements in place with state agencies that include specific targets for participation. The User Guide is not written on a blank slate, but is part of an ongoing program.

Is NAIS Mandatory or Voluntary?

Previous versions of the NAIS plan, which were the result of years of work by both industry and the government, clearly provided that NAIS would become mandatory after an initial voluntary period. The target date for 100 percent participation was set at January 2009. The new User Guide, with its repeated mantra that the program is "voluntary," includes a tacit acknowledgement that the plan for a mandatory program was extremely unpopular.

USDA still claims authority to implement a mandatory federal plan

Despite repeating 29 times in the Guide that NAIS is voluntary at the federal level, USDA takes care to note that: "Under our current authorities, USDA could make the NAIS mandatory, but we are choosing not to do so..." (p.4) In other words, USDA can change NAIS to a mandatory program any time it wants. The same people who tried to make NAIS mandatory for several years now want us to trust that they have changed their minds, and that NAIS is, and will remain, a voluntary program - unless they change their minds again.

USDA and state agencies can force participation in NAIS using current programs

USDA initially planned to implement NAIS as a centralized program at the national level. After grassroots protests, USDA changed its strategy to provide standards and guidance at the national level, with states writing their own laws and regulations to implement NAIS. USDA can thus claim that NAIS is "voluntary at the national level," while simultaneously encouraging and funding mandatory programs at the state level. The User Guide states that the new plan does not change any elements of state plans for NAIS. This allows states to impose mandatory animal identification and premises registration programs. USDA continues to fund these mandatory state programs and has not stated any intention to cease doing so. Indeed, USDA Secretary Johanns has stated that funding mandatory state programs does not conflict with a "voluntary" federal program.

In addition to state programs that make NAIS explicitly mandatory, the User Guide recognizes that participation in NAIS can be coerced without new federal regulations. On page 8, USDA states:

"For example, in order for producers to obtain official identification devices, they first need to register for a premises identification number. Accordingly, the success of the premises registration component would be achieved through the participation of producers in longstanding disease management programs and compliance with interstate movement regulations."

In other words, the states can force people to register into the federal NAIS database in order to obtain identification devices that they must have under already existing programs.

You may, or may not, have a choice in animal identification

In the User Guide, USDA repeatedly claims that obtaining an animal identification number (AIN) is voluntary. However, USDA fails to say what happens when you buy a cow from someone who is participating in NAIS. Suppose, for instance, you buy a cow from a NAIS participant, so the cow is already marked with an AIN, and entered into a state or private database. Unless they want to remain the registered owner of that cow, the NAIS participating owner will be required to report the sale of the AIN marked cow within 24 hours. The same applies to identified horses, chickens, sheep, etc. So your information will be reported, as the buyer, to the database even if you haven't "volunteered." Further, the Guide states: "Producers who purchase animals and bring them into their operation will maintain the official identification already on the animal." (p.29) If you truly had an option to not participate, the USDA would have used the term "may" instead of the mandatory "will."

The only way we can protect ourselves against a mandatory NAIS is to get Congress to pass a law that states USDA may not implement or fund a mandatory NAIS, whether at the state or federal level. Federal funding of voluntary state programs, which creates pressure to expand those programs, should also be barred. The law must prohibit USDA and the States from using coercive measures, such as denial of services, to "encourage" participation in NAIS.

What is the Scope of NAIS?

Just who will be affected by the NAIS, and under what circumstances?

USDA says: "Household pets (e.g., cats and dogs) and animals not listed in the paragraph are not included." The Guide includes: "cattle and bison; poultry; swine; sheep; goats; cervids (e.g., deer and elk); equines (e.g., horses, mules, donkeys, burros), and camelids (e.g., llamas and alpacas)." (p.4) Nevertheless, animal owners should not think that their "pet" horses, pigs, goats, sheep, etc. are safe from being targeted by USDA. If they are on the list of included species, it won't matter that you consider the animal a pet. Moreover, there is nothing to stop USDA from expanding the list of animals in the future.

In earlier plans, USDA indicated that all animal movements off your premises would require you to report such movements to NAIS within 24 hours. The User Guide now provides that "those movements carrying a high risk of disease transmission will be the primary focus of tracing efforts." (p.46) The Guide then repeatedly states that local trail rides and participation in local fairs are not considered to be reportable movements, by USDA. However, this does not block individual States from requiring such reporting. USDA also leaves room for increasing the reporting requirements: "Again, it must be noted that, if certain animal disease issues are present in a given geographical area, the reporting of animal movement becomes more critical and may vary during the period when greater monitoring of the disease is being administered by animal health officials." What will be used to define "local" versus "regional?" When will "greater monitoring" be needed? Nothing stops the program's "focus" from continuously expanding once it is in place. The USDA has failed to provide a valid scientific basis for NAIS, so we cannot expect the expansion of the program will be based on good science.

What are the Costs of NAIS?

NAIS is about money. USDA claims disease control is vital to "... preserve producers' business and economic interests." Nowhere in the new User Guide does USDA even mention protecting the private property rights and privacy rights of American animal owners. The Guide contains nothing to protect the personal commitment of millions of owners to their animals, which the USDA feels free to "depopulate" (in other words, kill) in order to protect the monetary interests of industrial agriculture. Non-monetary interests, which are of critical importance to individuals, are ignored.

Premises registration is free in all States - but it may not remain that way

Technically, the User Guide is correct that premises registration is currently free in all states. However, USDA admits that states "may choose to keep premises registration free or not." (p.26) As one example, the Texas Animal Health Commission proposed charging a fee for mandatory premises registration in order to fund the agency's activities. Bureaucrats can saddle citizens with more taxes, often hidden as fees, however they choose. Nothing is truly free; current premises registration is being funded by a combination of state and federal tax dollars. For example, Michigan State Department of Agriculture has stated that its mandatory RFID tagging of cattle is at "minimal" cost to owners, "as long as federal funding continues." What happens when the federal funding ends? The USDA and state agencies continue to avoid the real issue, which is how much the NAIS program truly costs in its entirety.

The estimated costs for animal identification and tracking are baseless

The Estimated Cost data in the User Guide are totally spurious and greatly underestimated. According to USDA, "horse owners are paying $20 to have a horse implanted with injectable transponders. If the owner has the expertise to implant the transponder him/herself, the cost of the transponder would be a few dollars." Even for those implanting the chips themselves, just the microchip and syringe costs around $18. ( ) With a vet's assistance, the cost can be anywhere from $35 to $70. Those quotes do not include the cost of hauling the horse to the vet, or paying the barn-visit fee.

USDA also fails to include the costs of RFID readers, computers, or other means required for reporting to the NAIS database, and the untold hours of labor involved with tagging animals, record keeping, and reporting. Estimates from the Australian Beef Association place the total cost of tagging at $37 to $40 per animal, on average. Since people who own one or just a few animals usually pay more than large producers, since they can't buy large quantities of the supplies, these averages understate the probable cost for most individuals.

USDA repeatedly says that competition in the market will keep reporting fees down for animal owners. However, the User Guide does not say how these costs will be controlled or minimized. Instead, all we have are the hopes of USDA bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. that NAIS will have only minimal cost impacts on animal owners. Moreover, those entities who stand to profit from running the databases have played key roles in developing the program. Experience with many areas of our economy proves that the bureaucrats' hopes that costs will stay low are not justified, especially when private industry is actively involved in setting government policy.

Finally, USDA admits " specific participation cost figures are available at this time." Sign up for NAIS, hold your breath, and wait for the other shoe to drop!

The Alleged Need for, and Benefits from, NAIS

NAIS is Not Necessary to Inform Animal Owners of Disease Threats

USDA repeatedly claims that NAIS is necessary for animal owners to "receive timely information" of disease threats. (p.2, 17, and 25) NAIS does not include any provisions for establishing exactly how the government would inform those animal owners, however. Obviously, the U.S. Mail is far too slow to be effective. Will NAIS employ a phone bank of people to call everyone in the affected area or use automated e-mail? Since they now claim that NAIS is voluntary, and we know a lot of people will refuse to enroll in NAIS, their database will not contain the names and phone numbers of a large percentage of animal owners in any given area. Even if NAIS were mandatory, experience dictates there will always be some people who refuse to comply with the law, so agency personnel would still have to "drive up and down rural roads" (p.12.) if they wanted direct contact with each individual animal owner. Radio, TV, and newspaper are an effective way of informing animal owners of a disease problem in their area. NAIS is not necessary to tell animal owners when there is a threat of animal disease.

The User Guide repeatedly claims the export market benefits all producers: "To maintain and protect prices for domestic commodities, it is crucial for international markets to stay open." (p.11.) Yet USDA's own statistics show that the U.S. imports 3 to 8 times more beef than it exports. ( ) While international markets obviously affect prices, the benefits potentially gained from a tracking system to aid in the export of meat are not self-evident and require careful calculation, not vague claims.

These are just specific examples of an overarching problem: the USDA has no idea what it is talking about, when it comes to either the costs or the benefits of NAIS. The User Guide even admits this: "USDA plans to have a cost-benefit analysis conducted that will help us more precisely forecast the potential economic benefits of NAIS." (p.12.) Even though they have spent years and tens of millions of dollars developing NAIS, USDA has NEVER conducted a cost-benefit analysis to see if this thing makes sense, or not.

Just as critical as what USDA says is what it omits. Nowhere does USDA indicate any interest in exploring more cost-effective and less intrusive means of obtaining the same (alleged) benefits. There is never only one way to reach a goal, yet USDA has decided that NAIS is the answer, without scientific support or an analysis of the alternatives.


The preceding only covers some of the issues hidden in the new User Guide. USDA has been less than forthcoming in the way they worded the document. Obviously, they intend to lull us into stopping our protests. To do so would be a major mistake.

Until Congress explicitly limits USDA's authority and provides meaningful oversight, we remain subject to the whims of bureaucrats who have already shown that their concern lies with the industrial agriculture and technology companies, not the vast majority of Americans who own animals.

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