The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) suffered a setback in May.

When members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed an $18.4 billion agriculture appropriations bill for 2007, they effectively presented the USDA with a caveat — no money will be allocated to the NAIS until the House Agriculture Appropriations Committee receives more details on the proposed program's costs, evaluation procedures and the need for legislative changes.

At this writing, the Senate had not voted on ag appropriations for 2007. If they fund NAIS, the appropriations committees from the House and Senate will eventually have to reconcile the differences.

Frustration Prevails

“Frustrating” pretty well sums up the feelings on both sides of the animal identification (ID) debate.

Several House members blame USDA for dragging their feet in providing the costs and working procedures for a national animal ID program. Some have implied that certain not-to-be-named sectors in the livestock industry lobbied for the hoop-jumping exercise to slow the progress of the national program.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns has publicly stated that a livestock identification program could be voluntary, with two big “ifs.”

If too few livestock owners chose to participate, the program may become mandatory. And, if most livestock owners chose to participate, but some laggards remain, the program may become mandatory.

Somewhere in the middle, the livestock industries probably can buy some time, but the message is clear — the U.S. livestock sector needs an identification program that provides quick, effective traceback capabilities, and the agriculture secretary is committed to delivering one.

Bottom line — it's really not optional; it's essential.

In an odd way, the resistance to individual animal identification reminds me of a card I recently received from the state department of transportation. The notification reminds me it's again time to renew my driver's license. Truth is, it's a hassle. But, to their credit, they want to make sure I can still see well enough to drive, to document my insurance coverage, and (groan), to get a new picture, sure to verify that I am not aging all that gracefully.

Yea, it's a hassle, but it's essential.

By comparison, the first step in the national animal ID program is no hassle at all. Simply go to http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/index.shtml for more information about the NAIS and for premises registration.

The USDA's goals are straightforward and worthwhile — establishment of a fully functional animal identification system to safeguard U.S. animal health. And, in the event of a disease outbreak, the system must be capable of pinpointing where a disease was detected, then trace all movements of any animal back to the farm of origin within 48 hours.

Beware the Nay-Sayers

There are certain factions in the pork industry that do not support a national ID program because they see it as a financial and management “burden” with little or no financial reward.

In a few cases, these anti-ID folks are breeders and caretakers of minor and/or rare breeds of animals and poultry at risk of extinction.

On the hog side, some simply supply pork to a niche market with no aspirations to expand their market. That's fine, but their limited aspirations seem to have obstructed their view of the potential disease risks lurking out there.

Preservation of a broad genetic base is important as our growing knowledge of gene markers and the potential for selection for productivity gains, meat quality and disease resistance advances.

In the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak, containment and rapid response are keys to restricting the spread. Yes, it could create a real expense — genetically and financially — to those experiencing an outbreak, but it pales in comparison to the costs of a disease left to spread unchecked.

Surveillance and a highly connected reporting network are the first steps to disease containment. Willingness and ability to impose and undergo quarantines will determine the effectiveness of containment efforts.

Moving On

A primary area of contention is data confidentiality of NAIS information.

Understood. We all live in fear of identity theft or “big brother” gaining too much access to our personal lives. A recent failure to safeguard the personal identification information of our armed services veterans certainly doesn't build confidence.

But I agree with the National Institute of Animal Agriculture's (NIAA) stance on the confidentiality matter, which is: “NIAA supports the exemption of NAIS data information from public release under the Freedom of Information Act so livestock stakeholders are assured their business in formation is kept private.”

For your benefit, and that of your industry, support the national ID program.