USDA Regroups on NAIS

Prairie Gleanings

Why aren't we discussing marketing opportunities with animal i.d.?

Published on: February 12, 2010

It's back to the drawing board for the National Animal Identification System. Last week, ag secretary Tom Vilsack announced the USDA will make sweeping changes to NAIS.


In particular, it seems the only time animals need i.d. is when they move across state lines. Also, there's no longer any mention of premises registration. However, two common themes remain: disease traceback and state implementation.


From the start, NAIS measures have drawn the most ire from beef producers, who would be tasked with identifying each animal. I'm told pork and poultry producers will be able to identify animals on a per lot basis.


In speaking with beef producers, it's easy to understand why they're concerned. Those who oppose this type of regulation are worried about the liability associated with a disease being traced back to their farm. In a worst-case scenario, imagine a disease outbreak that requires the liquidation of cattle in the surrounding three counties. What's to stop the state and other farmers from filing suit against the farm where the disease originated?


Just when I thought every beef producer in the state was against this program, I found one last month who supports it. And for a very good reason. He hit me with an argument I hadn't heard before. Rather than worrying about the potential liability, he's excited for the marketing opportunities that could be created with NAIS.


For example, Japan is only interested in cattle that are under 30 months of age at harvest. If NAIS creates a system that can certify an animal's age, he expects several new export markets will open their ports to U.S. beef.


In discussing pork prices with Brent Scholl, IPPA's new president, he mentioned that a healthy export market can help move that last 5% to 10% of product, thereby increasing domestic demand. If NAIS has the potential to do the same for beef exports, it's reasonable to think it will lead to better prices.


Going forward, if regulatory agencies want to make progress on this issue, they need to start discussing how NAIS will help the farmer, rather than scaring them with disease traceback. In last week's announcement, USDA mentioned disease traceback as the reason the U.S. needs NAIS.


Of course, many in the industry consider any type of i.d. system a pipedream. The funding simply isn't there. The feds don't have it, so they're pawning it off on the states. Since becoming the second-largest debtor state, don't hold your breath on Illinois finding the money anytime soon.


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