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 neighbors 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 neighbors 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 cooperativeswhich 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 evenings 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
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
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 (www.calt.iastate.edu)
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
INDEPENDENT CATTLEMEN OF NEBRASKA
"Solid as a windmill. Always working for the
For more information on ICON or R-CALF USA , visit or www.independentcattlemen.com
or call (308) 282-2826.