November 16, 2007: “Traceability” was
the focus of ID Expo 2007, the National Institute for Animal
Agriculture’s annual conference and trade show on the
National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Held in Kansas
City in August, the expo featured government officials and
industry representatives touting their software, microchips
and other technologies.
Noticeably absent (or at least silent) were farmers and ranchers,
who were the target for the still-controversial goal of registering
all producer locations (“premises”) and all livestock
in the United States in a unified database.
Rocky road so far
NAIS has been on the minds of the attendees of this conference
for several years. It was introduced in a big way to farmers
across the country in April 2006, with the NAIS Implementation
Guide. This booklet outlined the timeline the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) hoped to follow for the implementation
of a mandatory identification system for all domestic livestock.
Their goals included 100-percent premises identification and
all new (born in the past year) animals identified by the
end of 2008, as well as 60-percent of animal movement recorded
by January 2009.
These goals were met with many levels of resistance, however,
from lawsuits against the USDA by farmers to solid opposition
to proposed state regulations attempted to implement NAIS.
In some states, such as Vermont, Maine and Texas, farm groups
and activists were able to stop proposed state rulemakings
that would have implemented mandatory premises registration–the
first phase of NAIS–while in other states, anti-NAIS
activists worked to have their state legislatures enact laws
that attempted to prohibit the state’s participation
in the NAIS.
To counter this resistance, the USDA published a new
user guide in 2006 and declared that the NAIS would be
voluntary. The Senate Agriculture committee is considering
a measure stating that all NAIS data would be confidential—to
assure some states that had voiced privacy concerns—but
allowing the Secretary of Agriculture some discretion to disclose
In addition to the new user guide, the USDA entered into
cooperative agreements with states to encourage individual
participation in the voluntary NAIS program. States were given
federal money to get farmers signed up for the NAIS. The USDA
reports that it has entered into cooperative agreements with
49 states, distributing approximately $50.8 million for this
purpose, as of the end of fiscal year 2006.
Resistance limits impact, so far
In July 2007, the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
published a report on NAIS titled, USDA
Needs to Resolve Several Key Implementation Issues to Achieve
Rapid and Effective Disease Traceback. As the title suggests,
the GAO found several problems with NAIS, and made several
recommendations. Essentially, the report says that NAIS is
not currently working because there is not enough participation
in the program.
Further, the GAO recommends that a cost-benefit analysis
be done to determine whether NAIS is really providing enough
benefits to justify the costs associated with the program
(see sidebar). The GAO also recommended that the USDA prioritize
species and diseases in order to focus their efforts within
the NAIS program.
The USDA’s response to the GAO report was evident at
this summer’s ID Expo 2007. The presenters reported
that the USDA’s new focus will be on “traceability”
and “achieving a critical mass of participation”
in order to increase the effectiveness of the NAIS program.
In addition, the USDA will focus on disease programs, and
prioritize this focus by species.
The approach will be two-fold. First, the USDA will begin
assigning premises identification numbers (PINs) to producers
through the disease programs. Dr. John Clifford, of the USDA’s
Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary
Services (VS) department indicated that the objective is to
establish a nationally uniform identification system to support
animal disease prevention and management programs. “Animal
health is the focus,” he said.
Clifford indicated that the essential strategies are to take
advantage of existing programs, increase participation beyond
the disease programs, and to integrate NAIS data standards.
He noted that the USDA is developing a business plan, which
will be published soon, to develop strategies to maximize
traceability, saying the plan will focus on species sectors,
such as poultry and sheep.
USDA admits: “Long way to go.”
Clifford explained the process the USDA will use to integrate
NAIS into all disease programs by standardizing the PINs.
Clifford wrapped up by saying, “I think we’ve
made a lot of progress over time, but I think we have a long
way to go.”
A producer will not “officially” be registered
in the NAIS database; however, the producer will have an assigned
PIN that is compatible with NAIS. This means that if an “outbreak
event” occurs, the USDA can get access to the disease
databases and subsequently “sync” the premises
location data with the USDA’s other information in order
to find all of the farms that are registered through the disease
Dr. John Wiemers, from USDA’s APHIS Veterinary Services,
noted that there will be two tiers of priorities. He explained,
“The tier-one species include the major food producing
groups, such as cattle, swine, commercial poultry, sheep and
goats. It also includes the competition sector of the equine
species. The balance of the species are found in the tier
Wiemers explained the rationale for the tiered sectors, saying
it was “to more clearly focus on enhancing the traceability
in the areas of the greatest value.” Wiemers noted that
within the Tier One sector, there is further classification
of high, medium, and low risk. He also noted that ovine (sheep)
are a low risk because this species is already pretty traceable.
However, in the next presentation, Dr. David Morris, also
of USDA APHIS Veterinary Services, said that in order to reach
the “critical mass,” the USDA will focus on sheep
because it will be possible to achieve close to 90-percent
traceability “by leveraging the Scrapie Eradication
Expanding to non-profit groups
The second part of the USDA’s new approach is to expand
its cooperative agreement program to “non-profit organizations”
such as clubs, trade groups and breed associations, to “encourage
producer participation” in the NAIS program. The USDA
will give grants to these organizations in exchange for the
organizations’ assigning PINs to their members. One
recent cooperative agreement that received some recognition
is with the national FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers
of America), an organization for high school vocational agriculture
students and these alumni as young adults. This $600,000
collaboration includes five parts, including general and
state-specific educational materials, coverage in the FFA’s
national publications and TV show, and recognition for participating
In response to the GAO’s complaint that there have
not been enough accountability measures implemented with the
cooperative agreements, the USDA has said it will distribute
the grants in stages, requiring the groups to meet incremental
goals for getting so many producers assigned PINs before receiving
the next stage of their funding.
In addition to these strategies, the USDA is focusing on
“communication and education,” believing that
if producers can see the value in registering for NAIS, they
will be less resistant to it. A clear theme of ID Expo 2007
was “value for the producer,” with several presentations
referring to this alleged value. However, the presenters were
hard-pressed to actually show any value to producers.
During a presentation titled “Traceability/Value Creation,”
Lance Storer of Cargill Meat Solutions indicated that he is
in favor of a voluntary identification system. He said he
believes source verification is the added value of the NAIS
for producers, as the claim cannot be made unless it is can
be verified, and that there is currently no USDA definition
for this claim. Storer said that you can sell a story through
source verification to one particular importer, who can then
sell it to a single customer. In other words, the value of
NAIS to the marketer of commodity meat is that you can claim
you know where the meat came from.
The trade show messages at ID Expo 2007 showed examples of
how states are trying to encourage producers to register their
premises. Nebraska’s Department of Agriculture had a
booth dedicated to its communication plan, called, “Locate
in 48: 48-Hour Disease Traceback.” At the booth, visitors
could pick up a copy of a media training kit offered by the
department, as well as materials intended for producers. A
full-color glossy flyer encourages producers to “Get
your free flashlight!” by registering their premises.
Another item visitors to the Nebraska booth could pick up
was a bag of microwave popcorn with a refrigerator magnet
inside. This magnet has a photo of a few cattle standing together.
One of the animals is facing the viewer, with both ears displaying
ear tags. An arrow points to this animal, and the magnet reads,
“This animal could help maximize your profits. How can
you better connect to the global marketplace?”
Below, it says, “Take the first step. Register your