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June 26, 2008

ICON Board Members Attend Animal ID Seminar

HYANNIS, NE --- The Grant County Natural Resources Committee hosted an informational meeting on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in Hyannis on June 23rd. Over fifty area ranchers and six members of the Board of Directors of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska were in attendance to learn from the experts and to discuss with the public the scope of the NAIS program.

Tanya Storer of Whitman introduced speakers and fielded questions from those in attendance. The meeting was broadcast on KSDZ radio and is archived on their website.

The first speaker, Dr. Darrell Haney, a veterinarian with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, talked about the need for an identification program and some of the problems he has encountered in efforts to track diseased animals which have entered Nebraska . Haney profiled three separate cases involving bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis in animals which were sold several times and which entered Nebraska and his jurisdiction. Haney explained that brand inspectors record only the most recent brand when inspecting an animal. This makes if difficult to have an effective tracking system if an animal is sold repeatedly, he explained.

The second speaker was Ray Cunio, a resident of Franklin County, Missouri who serves on the planning commission there and on the Board of Farm Bureau. Cunio is a strong advocate of private property rights. Cunio spoke about the enormity of the National Animal ID project, and he explained that it is designed to track 29 separate animal groups (poultry, aquatic and mammalian). The scope of NAIS includes three phases. The first phase would identify the premises (place) the livestock operation uses. Phase two includes individual identification for each animal on a premises (except poultry and fish, which are permitted a “group” ID). Phase three involves the reporting of separate events for each of the animals. Cunio is most troubled by the requirements of phase three since it imposes onerous reporting obligations on the owner of each animal.

Cunio explained that anytime an animal is removed from your premises you have a reportable event. Cunio explained, “If you take your horse to the neighbor’s branding you are comingling animals and that is a reportable event (for both parties involved). You also experience a reportable event if your cattle cross to the neighbor’s pasture when the gate gets open. And each of the animal tag numbers would be required to be reported.” Cunio concluded. Such reports would be due within twenty-four hours.

Several states have received grants from USDA to implement premises ID locally. These grants obligate the states to benchmarks of participation by farmers and ranchers In states where voluntary participation has lagged, the authorities have coerced producers to sign up for premises ID by requiring it for participation in state-sanctioned fairs, drought assistance programs, or dairy cooperatives—which belies the “voluntary” nature of the act. While Cunio spoke strongly in opposition to NAIS, he noted that only mandatory ID will be effective against disease and that the “voluntary” phase of the program will become mandatory after most producers have signed up for voluntary ID. At that time any premiums associated with tag, age-verified, or premises-identified cattle will be nullified and the entire cost of the program will be imposed on the producers. Costs would include the tags, tag readers, and labor associated with reporting the data. These costs are not insignificant in a low-margin business like the cattle business.

Cunio believes that there will be a “massive exit” from the cow-calf portion of animal agriculture if the program becomes mandatory. “The paperwork associated with full compliance will drive many older and marginal producers from the industry, leaving it in the hands of large producers or corporate interests.”

Cunio commended the Independent Cattlmen of Nebraska for spearheading the passage of LB 632 during the 2008 Legislative session which requires that the state of Nebraska maintain a voluntary program which permits producers to withdraw from NAIS on their request. Missouri producers also tried to implement a similar bill but that effort lost by one vote. On the national level, Cunio argued that producers need to contact their Senators and Representatives to oppose resolutions introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro to require any producer who sells meat products through the school lunch program to be in compliance with NAIS.

The evening’s final speaker was Dr. Roger McEowen, Director of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University . Dr. McEowen touched on the legal issues associated with NAIS. McEowen stated that the primary driving forces behind the movement for NAIS were large corporate agri-business interests and tag manufacturers (who received government grants to develop the implantable Radio Frequency I.D. chip systems). McEowen believes that the motivating factor for agri-business is the ability to transfer liability back to the original owner of any livestock in cases where, for example, a consumer becomes sick from an animal product. It would then be the responsibility of that original owner to prove that he was not the source of disease or infection associated with a product which would be an extremely costly legal exercise. Ultimate liability will certainly reside with the cow-calf producer, despite the fact that most animals are out of the control of that individual for months or years after they leave the original ranch. Agribusiness also supports the mandatory national identification system because it could open specific export markets to the products and bring US policy in line with world interests.

Initial plans for the National Animal Identification program were in place long before the discovery of a BSE infected cow in December, 2003, but that case was used to give momentum to the push for a national ID program.

McEowen pointed out that an individual who voluntarily enters into an ID program has waived constitutional rights for a purpose, but mandatory programs entitle all individuals to full constitutional rights. McEowen explained how NAIS violates the Bill of Rights in several critical areas. He reported that attorneys in Lancaster County , Pennsylvania , for example, are representing the large Amish population who are challenging NAIS on religious grounds. Religious exemptions for any individuals would gut the intent of the law, but religious interests are protected by the constitution.

Among the several other Constitutional issues of concern with NAIS, McEowen also mentioned the right to be protected from “unreasonable search and seizure” and the question of whether radio frequency identification systems and the use of global positioning systems to locate cattle would be unlawfully intrusive. If NAIS is adopted McEowen said you can reasonably ask, “Why are you not required to report leaving your home with a car or gun (which are controlled by state and federal governments, and both of which can be deadly instruments) but you would have to file a report if you rode your horse to the neighbors, or if you took your calf to the vets?”

Should NAIS become mandatory in the United States , it is essential that each producer strictly follow guidelines set up by the government to protect his farm or ranch against liability. McEowen also agreed that there would be a significant exit from the livestock industry of older and smaller individuals because of the reporting requirements of NAIS.

Ironically, this would lead to more consolidation of animals in larger herds, which increases the risk of disease. Reduction of disease is purported to be the first aim of the NAIS program.

McEowen finished by issuing a list of thought-provoking questions which should be asked by each farm or ranch operator of their state officials. The devil is in the details and McEowen covered these thoroughly. McEowen can be reached through his website at the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation (

Ranch operations need to carefully consider entering a premises identification program before doing so because they may be imposing obligations upon themselves which they do not understand. For further information contact Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska at Box 241 , Hyannis , NE 69350 or through



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