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Critics challenge nationwide animal ID program

By Dan MacArthur, North Forty News 7/30/06

The National Animal Identification System is facing fierce resistance from a loose-knit coalition unconvinced of the need for what they consider a repetitive, costly and unconstitutional program.

"I don't think they should force anything on anybody because a few people want it," insists Leslie Applegate, who maintains a small herd of goats on her property north of Wellington.

She and others, united in their opposition to the NAIS largely through Internet discussion groups, are challenging calls locally and across the country for animal owners and producers to register the locations where their creatures are kept.

Applegate and other critics contend that the voluntary premises identification effort is only the first step down a slippery slope. They are convinced that it will lead to a mandatory program subjecting owners of even a few animals to oppressive reporting requirements and tyrannical government intervention including potential seizure and destruction of their animals.

"There's always a bogeyman somewhere in people's minds," counters Jack Whittier, a Colorado State University associate professor and extension beef specialist. The NAIS, he insists, is a well-thought-out program to assure the safety of the nation's food supply.

The NAIS is aimed at containing the outbreak of any animal-borne disease before it can infect others. Eventually the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects the NAIS will be capable of identifying all sites and other animals exposed to infected animals within 48 hours.

To accomplish this, Applegate and others contend that the USDA will impose a ponderous and intrusive reporting requirement that violates producers' privacy with no provision for protecting the confidentiality of the information provided.

"Each and every time a covered animal leaves a premises, or is taken to another premises and returns, a report must be filed," Applegate stated in an open letter to elected officials. "Reports must reflect all the places the animal is taken to and must be made within 24 hours." That provision, she continued, means reports would be required every time an animal attends a livestock show, is transported to another farm for stud service, or participates in a parade.

Whittier, however, maintains that the reporting requirements would correspond to the current ones for brand inspection, applying only to animals traveling beyond a 75-mile radius or across state lines.

Applegate further questioned "just who will hold the database, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and who will have access to it."

Whittier conceded that collecting and processing the data is going to require "a fairly significant effort" and confidentiality issues still have not been resolved. But, he said, private-sector contractors currently are developing reliable information technology to meet the needs of the NAIS.

"Is it going to be a big task, yes," said CSU Cooperative Extension agent Ernie Marx. "It's a big undertaking, but other countries are making it work."

He and Whittier are among those spearheading the premises identification program in Larimer County, urging producers to act now while registration is free and voluntary. Under the current timeline, which has already slipped, premises registration and animal identification will be mandatory by 2008, with animal movement reporting required the following year.

But beyond the burdens it places particularly on small producers, "NAIS will not work, NAIS will not protect us from terrorism," Applegate asserted, insisting that the nation's food supply already is safe. Instead of subjecting such onerous requirements on owners of such a broad range of species such as horses, goats, pigs, llamas and sheep, she stated that alternatives already are available to detect mad cow disease -which critics contend is the true target of the NAIS.

The USDA, according to Applegate, could more simply require the testing of all slaughtered cattle for mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The United States, she continued, also could limit importation of animals from other countries and better enforce existing laws.

"Any program that is implemented should be voluntary and market-driven," Applegate said.

That's precisely what the NAIS is, responds Marx. He said it is a free, voluntary, market-driven program to assure the safety of the domestic food supply and ensure international markets remain open to American producers.

"Those who embrace it will find ways to make it work," said Marx.

"I think it's just good business to be participants to preserve the safety and well-being of our animal industry," agreed Whittier. "I don't think it [NAIS] is going away."

The North Forty News reported on the NAIS in its July issue. That article is available at www.northfortynews.com\ArchiveList.htm.

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