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NAIS Shows How Government Takes the Wrong Approach

Pressing small farmers to tag every chick is not the best way to track animal disease and reduce outbreaks of food-borne illness.
Posted By Mark Roberti, 03.20.2009
Regular readers of this blog and my Editor's Note column know that I am a big believer in using radio frequency identification technologies to secure the food chain. But I do acknowledge that opponents of the U.S. National Animal Identification System (NAIS) have some legitimate gripes.

A press release issued yesterday stated that 70 leading food and agricultural groups, including the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (FTCLDF), the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) have signed a letter urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to "halt implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)."

The groups claim the program is "fundamentally flawed" since it does not address food safety, and because it favors vertically integrated food producers—large companies that raise and slaughter their own livestock, then process the meat. These companies can treat all cattle, pigs and chickens raised and moved through product together as one entity for tracking purposes, while small farmers would have to tag every animal.

The groups further claim the system won't help the government respond to outbreaks of diseases and food-borne illnesses, because of how big food producers are treated. I'm not so sure, but the NAIS approach does seem emblematic of why a government-driven initiative is not as good as a public-private partnership.

When the government takes the initiative with proper motives—and I believe the motives here were the legitimate need to protect the public and farmers alike from the effects of outbreaks—legislators are lobbied and asked to amend a bill. Eventually, competing interests lead to something that is neither fish nor fowl, so to speak.

A better approach would be for the government to focus on the biggest potential threats—I doubt that rabbit your daughter receives for Easter will threaten the food supply—and take steps to address them. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could purchase the technology from suppliers in large volume, then offer it at the same rate to small farmers, and the agency could set up systems that are drop-dead simple, in order to make reporting as painless as possible.

The key is to track animals as they move through the supply chain. There are consolidation points at which animals from different herds come together, then are dispersed. Tracking animals that came in contact with each other is critical.

If there are issues with the potential spread of disease among animals at vertically integrated producers, those should be addressed. But as it now stands, in the event of an outbreak, all animals moving together through production would need to be destroyed. That seems unavoidable.

It's true that the current plan would not enable the government to track the outbreak of a food-borne illness, because there is no tracking of food after it's processed. That is a bigger issue that needs to be tackled—not just with meat producers, but also with fruit and vegetable growers. The government needs to take a holistic approach that reduces the risks to consumers, and creates efficiencies for producers in the supply chain. And it will take vision—and a private-public partnership—to get that done.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark's opinions, click here or click here.


Reader 2009-05-25 05:39:04 AM
Finally starting to get it Thanks for an article that is finally showing the light! Over 90% are against NAIS due, not only to this issue of microchipping but many other things. Current listening sessions being held by USDA show the people are against NAIS. Had a pleasant chat with a very nice lady at FoodLogiQ a company that tracks veggies from farm to store AND cattle in Wisconsin and Canada…I asked did they have plans to include home gardens as they could be a source of pathogenic contamination —she said no that would be too intrusive, too much trouble on their part and logistically impossible and there would be a huge outrage from the people. In other words it just could not be done! I asked but what if salmonella or other pathogen from a private garden somehow got on the produce that would eventually go to the factories for canning, freezing or just to any grocery store…her reply was the factories are rigidly controlled to prevent that kind of stuff and the TRACEBACK WOULD BE JUST TO THE INFECTED PRODUDE THAT CAME FROM THE FIELDS (regardless of how they were infected) NOT THE PRIVATE TOMATO GROWER FROM WHICH THE ACTUAL INFECTION MAY HAVE COME FROM!!! And from this past few months we have experienced how stringent these factories truly are when it comes to tainted food (i.e. peanuts) so I asked her if the govt knowing about every privately home grown tomato or cucumber was too intrusive AND UNWORKABLE then why does the same argument not hold for privately owned cattle, goats, pigs, ponies, chickens, etc when it comes to NAIS. She agreed with me. The reasons we are told NAIS is needed keeps changing. (Disease protection, bioterrorism, global market, etc) Yet when Creekstone Beef wanted to test every cow they process for BSE, the USDA says they cannot!!!Creekstone had to take the USDA to court to sue for the right to test for BSE! And what does my reporting to the USDA when I take my horse off my property have to do with big ag selling beef to Japan?
Reader 2009-05-25 05:55:26 AM
USDA CONTROLLED BY BIG AG NAIS(national animal identification system) is first and foremost, a business plan designed to benefit corporate agriculture and factory farming so they can sell their product on the global level but they way it works will put those who own livestock on a private basis, including whoever raised or owned that animal to to be under more govt surveillance than illegals, drug dealers or child molesters. The part about tracking animal disease was added later. All those who own even one cow, pig, horse, chicken or other farm animal will be required to register their premises, microchip (RFID) each and every last critter, no matter if it is a pet or potential food. this step also negates private property rights. Then they must, under threat of huge fines, tell the govt about all birth, death and off-property movement reports (within 24 hours) on every last critter on the place. If animal disease is even suspected in an area, the USDA can go in and kill all the animals. (6 mile radius or 140 sq miles of animals dead that never came in contact with each other!) CAN YOU SEE WHY WE DO NOT WANT NAIS? WHO ELSE IN THE USA WILL HAVE TO TELL THE GOVT EVERYWHERE THEY GO WITH THEIR PRIVATE PROPERTY? Try this program on those own ride bikes or skates or other use other sports equipment and see the huge outcry among the masses. Tell them they must register their homes with the govt, pay to microchip their sports equipment and file reports when they use it, then risk losing it to depopulation should disease be suspected in an area. Under NAIS a 6 mile radius can be depopulated...that's 140 sq miles of healthy animals who never came in contact with the suspected diseased animal. Most diseases are preventable, can be vaccinated against or the animal recovers. The only problem with this program is that e-coli happens after the cow is slaughtered, which is when NAIS tracking stops. The beef is most vulnerable to being tainted in those processing plants. And the fact the majority of beef is raised by corporate agriculture, who will not be required to tag and track each animal because they raise them in lots, they they get only ONE number per groups of animals. Any one of those critters in that group could be diseased and who would know. But as long as there are appearances of something being done, the city dwellers will eat in peace, while granny and her few egg hens will be tracked closer than the illegals everybody is making such a fuss about and that will make our beef supply oh so safe.

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