Johanns announces key component of animal I.D. system
Farm groups concerned by private sector involvement

Posted September 1, 2005: The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its guiding principles for the new National Animal Identification System (NAIS) on Tuesday. Among those listed were the ability to track from origin to processing within 48 hours and the need to be easily accessible for both government officials and producers but it was not a guiding principle that drew the most criticism from farm groups.

Quietly tucked into the announcement of the guiding principles was a second announcement: the system would be run by a private firm. And it was this disclosure that that had the industry at attention.

“R-CALF USA was extremely disappointed to learn that a single, privately held animal-tracking repository will track and maintain animal-movement data for the agency’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS),” Chuck Kiker, Region V Director of the cattle producer’s association said after the announcement.

The National Farmer’s Union was also quick to voice their concern. “Our membership has repeatedly stated its call for the database to be maintained within the public agency domain,” said NFU President Dave Frederickson.

Both leaders worried about a conflict of interest, possible political corruption and a loss of industry secrets. “It concerns us greatly that USDA would entrust such a sensitive responsibility to private organizations that may have political motivation and aspirations,” said Kiker.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns said privacy concerns were considered. “After hearing the confidentiality concerns of producers,” he said in the statement. “We envision a system that allows these databases to feed a single, privately held animal-tracking repository that we can access."

But producers were not convinced. “This kind of responsibility should fall to animal health officials in the USDA, state animal health authorities, and tribal governments who are already charged with maintaining both the health and welfare of livestock and the American people,” said Kiker. “Only these publicly accountable officials should have access to this information for controlling a disease outbreak.”