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NAIS – The Final Rule

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2013 January Issue Newsletter

by Jack Kittredge NOFA / Mass Policy Director

Readers who have been NOFA members for a few years
now certainly remember the fight we got into over NAIS
– the National Animal Identification System. NAIS was
dreamed up by a consortium of big animal ag companies
and various companies making animal identification devices
in association with the USDA.
Created as a response to outbreaks of mad cow and other
indications that US feedlots and CAFOs were filthy and
producing sick and diseased animals, the idea was that the
system would reassure foreign markets for US meat products
that we were concerned about animal health. NAIS,
however, didn’t require that animals be raised on pasture, be
given adequate space or fed wholesome food appropriate to
their type, or restrict use of antibiotics, growth hormones,
or GMO feed. No, like so much else in American life, the
preventive route was not taken. It would be far too difficult
and expensive for factory farms to make those changes.
Instead, they agreed to determine that the problem was
biosecurity and the solution was to trace animals from birth
to death.
The original proposals for NAIS were pretty draconian.
Each livestock animal – down to the individual laying
hen – would need to be tagged, its premises registered on
a national database, and every time it is moved off the
premises (sold, sent for slaughter) that move would need
to be reported to the database managers within 48 hours.
Naturally, small holders and family farmers were upset. The
costs of tagging and reporting could surpass the value of the
animal in some cases.
So NOFA/Mass and other small farm groups mounted a
campaign against NAIS and finally, after a series of hearings
around the country at which hundreds of farmers turned
out to express their opposition and hardly any supporters
spoke, the USDA backed down and agreed to redesign the
Well, that redesign is finally done. For starters, NAIS will
apply only to cases of interstate movement. Any intrastate
transport of livestock is exempt. In cases where it applies,
animals moved in interstate transport would have to be
identified and accompanied by a certificate of veterinary
inspection or other paperwork.
In practical terms, sheep, goat, and pig owners will not
be subject to new requirements; the new rule refers to the
ID requirements under existing disease control programs
for these animals. Similarly, horse owners have already
been identifying horses that cross state lines due to equine
infectious anemia programs and will face few burdens
in practice. The rule exempts horses that are used for
transportation interstate (such as by horse and buggy).
The main impact of the rule will be on cattle and poultry
owners. For cattle, the rule requires identification and
documentation for beef cattle 18 months or older, as well as
dairy cattle and show cattle. The rule, however:
1) Clarifies that cattle going to custom slaughter are exempt,
regardless of whether the meat will be consumed by the
person moving the cattle or by someone else;
2) Provides that cattle going direct to slaughter at inspected
plants can be identified with a back tag rather than a
permanent form of identification;
3) Classifies brands, tattoos, and breed registry certificates
as official forms of identification as long as the shipping and
receiving states agree;
4) Clarifies the definition of “dairy cattle” as Ayrshire,
Brown Swiss, Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn,
and Red and Whites, not to include dual purpose and
mixed-use breeds;
5) Accepts movement documentation other than an
interstate certificate of veterinary inspection for all ages
and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and
receiving states.
Although poultry being moved interstate to an inspected
slaughterhouse will need to be identified under the rule,
most producers should be able to use group identification
for their broilers, since broilers are typically managed in
single-age groups. The greatest impact will be on live bird
markets, where birds crossing state lines will most likely need
to be individually identified.
Compared to the original draft rule, the fact that USDA
made so many changes shows the growing power of
smallholders and the impact we can have when we become
Thank you to all those who stayed with this project
and went to the countless meetings and read and
responded to the endless drafts and proposals.
Your efforts have paid off in a rule that is far more
reasonable, even if it does still miss the main
point that the conventional system of raising and
managing animals needs to focus as much on
health and quality as on economics.

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