Liberty Ark Coalition

Fighting to Stop the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

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The NAIS Story

If fully adopted and implemented, the likely outcome of NAIS is that animal ownership increasingly will be limited to large entities who can afford to comply and who are willing to accept the governmental intrusion. Yet this "feel good" program will do virtually nothing to safeguard animal health, its alleged purpose. Rather, NAIS will do all of the following:

  • drive small producers and their supporting suppliers (feed stores, auction houses, etc) out of existence

  • make people abandon raising animals for their own food and as pets

  • invade Americans' personal privacy to a degree never before tolerated

  • deprive Americans of their property rights

  • violate the religious freedom of Americans whose beliefs make it impossible for them to comply

  • cost the American economy far more than it will deliver

So what is this program and how did it develop?


The concept of an electronic national animal identification system was started back in the early 1990s, by technology companies seeking to expand their market, and large agricultural entities seeking to protect their ability to sell their mass produced meat on the world market.

Their efforts culminated in 2002, when the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) proposed that the USDA develop a "national animal identification system" (NAIS). While NIAA may sound like a public interest organization, its membership reads like a who's who in industrial agriculture and technology, including entities such as Cargill Pork, Tyson, National Pork Producers Council, and Global Vet Link.

Notably, the NIAA developed the national animal identification system more than a year and a half before the first case of Mad Cow was found in the U.S. Over the course of three years, USDA and NIAA worked together to develop the NAIS and inform the large-scale livestock producer community, while ignoring hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected.

The Federal Plan

After it took up the task from Industry, the USDA developed the plan through working groups, made up of representatives from government agencies, large agribusinesses, and technology companies. Notably absent from these workgroups were any significant representatives of pet owners, recreational animal owners, and small farmers and ranchers. Much of the work of these workgroups has yet to be completed, yet industry is rushing to make this program mandatory and implemented nationwide, without regard to the price to be paid by consumers and the average animal owner.

On April 25, 2005, the USDA released "Draft Program Standards" ("Standards") and a "Draft Strategic Plan" ("Plan") for the NAIS. The Standards and Plan have no authority in law. The USDA has stated that the Animal Health Protection Act of 2002 is the source of its authority. (Plan at 9.) But that statute addresses only the import and export of animals, interstate travel, quarantines areas, and related programs. Two Congresses have tried, but failed to pass legislation that would amend the Act to provide for a mandatory electronic tracking system for individual head of livestock. USDA is operating without authority from Congress. Currently, there are three bills in Congress, trying to give postdated authority to this assault on our freedom. The existence of these bills proves that there is no Congressional authority for USDA to establish a mandatory animal identification system.

USDA, various state agencies, and many private companies who have vested financial interests in seeing NAIS adopted have tried to present an image of the NAIS as a sensible, practical plan to address animal disease. A review of the government's plan, however, shows quite the opposite. The current NAIS Plan provides:

  • Premises registration: Every person who owns even one horse, cow, pig, chicken, sheep, goat, deer, elk, bison, or virtually any livestock animal, will be forced to register their home, including owner's name, address, and telephone number, and keyed to Global Positioning System coordinates, in a government database under a 7-digit "premises ID number." (Standards, pp. 3-4, 10-12; Plan, p. 5.) Additionally, pet owners who own one parakeet, canary, cockatiel, etc. as owners of "exotic fowl" have been targeted for mandatory inclusion in this system. If you buy a pet bird after this system is put into effect, it probably will already have an Animal Identification Number. It will be registered to you, and you must register your premises (wherever you keep the bird). If you move the bird off your "premises" for any reason, or it dies, or it produces more birds, you must report such activity to the federal government within 24 hours. In Texas, there was a staff recommendation to hold off on mandatory registration of exotic fowl kept as pets, until a disease was suspected, then they will implement mandatory registration. However, that recommendation is on hold until TAHC decides what path it will take.

  • Animal Identification: Every animal will have to be assigned a 15-digit ID number by the government. The form of ID will most likely be a tag or microchip containing a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), designed to be read from a distance. (Plan, p. 10; Standards, pp. 6, 12, 20, 27-28.) The plan may also include collecting the DNA of every animal and/or a retinal scan of every animal. (Plan, p.13.) Despite the announcement that a federal mandatory database might be put off, USDA maintains detailed information on the structure of these 15-digit ID numbers as of mid-March 2006, ostensibly so that ID manufacturers could normalize their numbering systems. Some animals such as pigs and poultry, owned by large producers, may have a "group" identifier assigned instead of an individual number for each animal, as described below.

  • While some state agencies and industry actors have pointed to the provision for "group numbers" for poultry and swine, small farmers do not manage their animals in ways that would qualify. Group or lot identification can only be used where groups of animals are managed together from birth to death and never commingled with other animals. (Standards pp.5-6.) This provision is tailored for confinement poultry operations, not pastured poultry operations. If animals do not meet the requirements for group identification, they will have to be individually identified.

  • Animal Tracking: The owner will be required to report: the birthdate of an animal, the application of every animal's ID tag, every time an animal leaves or enters the property, every time an animal loses a tag, every time a tag is replaced, the slaughter or death of an animal, or if any animal is missing. Also, every time an animal goes onto or off of another person's premises, a report would be required, showing that the tagged animal had been on each of these other premises. Such events must be reported within 24 hours. (Standards, pp. 12-13, 17-21.)

  • Third parties, such as veterinarians, will be required to report "sightings" of animals who do not have ID numbers. (Standards, p. 25.) In other words, if a farmer or rancher calls a vet to their property to treat an animal, and the vet finds any animal without the mandatory 15-digit computer-readable ID, the vet may be required to report that non-compliance.

  • There are no exceptions; under the USDA plan; livestock owners will be forced to register and report even if they raise animals only for their own food or keep horses for draft or for transportation.

  • The USDA will exercise "enforcement" against livestock farmers who don't comply. (Standards, p. 7; Plan, p. 17.) As an example of what can be expected, the proposed Texas regulations for mandatory premises registration provide for fines of up to $1,000 per day and criminal penalties.

The Alleged Rationale: Disease Control

The alleged rationale for this program is to protect against animal disease by providing 48-hour traceback of all animal movements. The proponents raise the specter of Mad Cow, foot and mouth, avian flu, and other "foreign animal diseases." There are many flaws with this rationale.

The first flaw is that the threat of disease cannot justify every intrusion into our privacy and property rights. Disease, both human and animal, has been part of our existence for millennia. The government's and industry's attempt to use fear to deprive us of our rights is unacceptable.

Second, even when viewed solely from the perspective of animal disease problems, the NAIS is unnecessary, ineffective, and even counterproductive. The government already has established systems and processes, including surveillance, tracking, and quarantines, for controlling the spread of animal diseases. In contrast to the established systems, this new program is impractical; the technology is flawed, the database would be unmanageable, and the logistics of actually tagging and tracking the animals would dwarf any government program in existence. The costs will roll downhill to the smallest producer and individual animal owner. There are no provisions for USDA to offset the staggering costs of this national program.

Moreover, the tracking of animal disease 48 hours later does little to address either the prevention of diseases or the safety of our food supply. If we want to protect Americans from Mad Cow disease, for example, the answer is simple: stop feeding animal parts to cattle and test animals that are slaughtered before they enter the food chain. The problems of salmonella and e. coli in our food supply can also be best addressed by prevention and proper inspection of slaughterhouses. Tracking will not solve these problems.

The idea that a one-size-fits-all tracking program could address the issue of animal disease shows a complete lack of understanding of biology and animal management. As is well documented in the scientific literature, the susceptibility of animals to disease and the likelihood of transmission differ greatly depending on the conditions under which the animals are kept. Yet the NAIS makes no distinction between farmers raising a small herd of sheep and cattle on carefully-tended pastures, and a feedlot with hundreds of animals crowded into small pens, hock-deep in manure; there is no distinction between a pastured poultry operation where the birds are moved daily and sunlight kills any pathogens and confinement operations with 10,000 chickens living in an unsanitary, crowded building. This program is precisely the opposite of what is needed to prevent and control disease.

Indeed, NAIS will probably increase the spread of livestock diseases by creating a new black market. If these new regulations are adopted, it is inevitable that some people will not comply - whether for religious reasons, economic reasons, or unwillingness to allow the government intrusion. Since they will be acting illegally, they will be far less likely to seek a veterinarian's help should a disease problem arise.

The Secondary Alleged Rationale: The Export Market

The USDA has stated that NAIS is also necessary to protect the U.S.'s export market. Yet a voluntary program would suffice to address exports. Such a program would allow the market to determine how valuable it is to track animals from birth to death. Any farmer that wishes to export animals or food to other countries could enroll in the program; in turn, these exporters could refuse to buy from anyone who was not also enrolled in the tracking program. There is no reason to impose the heavy burdens of NAIS on the thousands of farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, and companion animal owners who have no interest in being part of the commercial chain.

The Real Reasons

Given that the stated reasons for NAIS are insupportable, one has to look for the true reasons for this program. In searching for the truth, it is helpful to look at who is advocating the program.

First, the large industrial agriculture entities, such as Cargill Pork and Tyson, support this program. These entities will reap all of the benefits from the enhanced export market, without bearing the costs that will be imposed on the people actually raising the animals and/or taxpayers. Moreover, by creating such a burdensome program, the industrial agriculture can rid itself of the small, but rapidly-growing, local foods movement that threatens its monopoly and its ability to complete the vertical integration of our food supply.

Second, various technology companies also stand to profit from this program. Global Vet Link, Micro Beef Technologies, and Digital Angel are all members of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and involved in the working groups developing the details of the plans. Such companies not only make the microchips and radiotags, but charge for software and related equipment necessary to operate these systems.

Third, the large associations support this program, even though most of their members are opposed. While this is puzzling at first, it is yet again an issue of following the money. The USDA has stated that the database with all of the NAIS information will be privately-held, to avoid Freedom of Information Act issues. There has been repeated discussion that NAIS will actually consist of multiple databases. Many large livestock and companion animal breed associations already operate significant databases with information on livestock animal owners, and are perfectly positioned to become contractors and subcontractors for the NAIS database. The government will mandate registration and reporting, and the private organizations will be able to charge as they like, because their "customers" are captives of NAIS.

The Real Effects

So if NAIS will not solve animal disease problems, what will it do?

  • Eradication of Small Farms - People with just a few meat animals or 40-cow dairies are already living on the edge financially. The USDA plan will force many of them to give up farming.

  • Loss of the True Security of Organic and Local Foods - The NAIS is touted by the USDA and agricorporations as a way to make our food supply "secure" against diseases or terrorism. However, most people instinctively understand that real food security comes from raising food yourself or buying from a local farmer you actually know. The USDA plan will only kill off more local sources of production, which are our best defense in the event of adulteration of the food supply by terrorists. These small producers also represent the community of organic and sustainable agriculture farmers and ranchers, which provide food sources in increasing demand.

  • Destruction of Personal Property Rights as We Know Them - Legally, livestock animals are a form of personal property. The NAIS plan refers to a "national herd" (Plan p.8) which clearly indicates the government's vision: private ownership rights will be destroyed, and no one will be allowed to birth, hatch, own, or transfer any head of livestock without government permission. We can take our shotguns and walk over our neighbor's property, but if children ride their ponies to their neighbors, or a farmer gives a couple chickens to a neighbor, that will have to be registered with the government.

  • Extreme Damage to Personal Privacy - It is unprecedented for the United States government to conduct large-scale computer-aided surveillance of its citizens simply because they own a common type of property. (The only exceptions are registration of motor vehicles and, in some locales, guns.) A gun owner will be able to transport their gun almost anywhere they want to go, without reporting such movement to anyone. But, if you take a chicken to a livestock show, you will have to report it. The NAIS would actually subject the owner of a chicken to far more surveillance than the owner of a gun.

  • Insult to Animal Welfare - The NAIS is the ultimate objectification of higher level living creatures, treating individual animals as if they were cans of peas with a bar code. Many people who raise their own animals, or buy from small local producers, do so because they are very troubled by industrial-scale production of chickens, cattle, sheep, and pigs. These people will be forced either to sacrifice their personal privacy to government surveillance, or to stop raising their own food by humane standards.

  • Burden on Religious Freedom - Many religious sects require their members to raise their own food animals and use animals in farming and transportation because their beliefs require them to live this way. Such people obviously cannot comply with the USDA's computerized, technology-dependent system. The NAIS will force these people to violate their religious beliefs.

  • Extraordinary Costs without Value - The database will cost far more than it will delivery. The disease control claims are specious, as they ignore that disease control methods must be designed based on the species and disease involved, and the vectors of transmission. One system, even if it was useful for one species, will not fit all. The numbers of annual reports, and the size of the database, will dwarf any other database the federal government has. If it cannot track aliens with expired visas, how will it track 300,000,000 annual reports of movement or tagging of chickens? In other countries that have adopted mandatory premises and animal identification and tracking, costs have multiplied to twelve times the original fees per animal. Our economy cannot absorb these costs, when American citizens will reap no measurable benefit.

  • A Technological Nightmare - While the technology companies claim that they can deliver the technology called for under NAIS, this technology carries many problems and dangers of its own. RFID chips can be reprogrammed or even infected with viruses. Want to place the blame for a sick animal on someone else? Just reprogram the tag. Want to create chaos at a livestock auction? Infect the tags with viruses. Want to steal a horse? Simply destroy the microchip embedded in the horses' neck and insert a counterfeit one of your own.

State Issues

It is critical that everyone learn what is happening in their state. NAIS is not a federal mandate. The USDA has no statutory authority to implement NAIS. Each state is free to decide for itself whether or not to implement an animal identification system.

So find out if your state already has legislation or is implementing NAIS without legislation. If there is legislation, is the state agency working on regulations to implement it? If there isn't legislation, then how is it that your state is setting up its program? You, and your friends, have the capability to block and/or force the repeal of any laws. Tell your neighbors about this attack on our civil liberties.

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