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November 22, 2006, by Peter Shinn, Brownfield Ag News

According to Dow Jones, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bruce Knight promised Wednesday to keep the national animal identification system (NAIS) a permanently voluntary system. The Dow Jones article said Knight wants to end debate over whether or not the NAIS will ever become mandatory, because that worry is only impeding progress on implementing a voluntary system.

The Dow Jones report comes as USDA issued a 65-guide to the NAIS Wednesday. In an interview with Brownfield late last month, Knight also assured producers the NAIS would remain voluntary.

But USDA may not be the final arbiter of the status of the NAIS. Incoming House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson has said on more than one occasion in recent weeks that he currently favors a mandatory approach because USDA has been "screwing up" implementation of a voluntary system.

That perception may change with Knight, who got promoted from Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to the USDA Under Secretary job in August. Knight drew a shower of praise from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers during his confirmation hearing in August for his management at NRCS of such controversial and complex programs as the Conservation Security Program (CSP). And Knight said in the Brownfield interview earlier this month that overhauling the NAIS had been his top priority since he'd been promoted.

But it's worth noting that not all livestock groups favor a voluntary system. The National Pork Producers Council, for example, continues to support, and lobby for, a mandatory approach. And whether Congress acts on NAIS or allows USDA to continue to handle the system using a completely voluntary approach may well depend on the success of Knight's efforts.

Related Links:
National Animal Identification System information from USDA
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