FARMINGTON, MO - A debate is raging over a program that would require livestock owners to register their farms and their herds with the government. Local livestock owners recently gathered at the Farmington Livestock Auction barn Thursday evening to listen to opponents of the proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The system is being implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“I counted the seats before anyone arrived tonight and I counted 370 of them,” said Ron Conway, an organizer of the forum. “Just about every seat is filled. This turnout is wonderful.”
Russell Wood, of the Ozark Properties Rights Congress, said right now the NAIS is in the first of three phases.
“The USDA is trying to get livestock owners to register their premises,” Wood said. “Making this mandatory falls on legislation from each state. It is not mandatory in Missouri yet. This is the foundation for the NAIS. Do not voluntarily register your premises with the USDA.”
Opponents of the NAIS proclaim the new system would alienate the rights of livestock owners and would make them susceptible to spot inspections by USDA officials. They also say the new system will be costly for small farming operations.
“We don't want this to happen in America,” said Bob Parker. “I just want the government to leave me along and stay out of my life. I am willing to pay taxes. They have come out on the farm and found me and found you. The only way to stop it is to get Missouri officials to stop it from coming here.”
According to its Web site, NAIS is a national program through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that is intended to identify animals and track them as they come into contact with, or mingle with, animals other than herd-mates from their premises of origin.
In April 2004, the USDA announced the framework for implementing the NAIS on a national level. When fully operational, the system will be capable of tracing a sick animal or group of animals back to the herd or premises that is the most likely source of infection. It will also be able to trace potentially exposed animals that were moved from that herd or premises. The sooner animal health officials can identify infected and exposed animals and locations, the sooner they can contain the disease and stop its spread, according to the USDA.
Livestock owners could be forced to register their cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas, and alpacas.
The USDA has said that the first step in implementing the NAIS is identifying and registering locations that house animals. These would include locations where livestock and poultry are managed, marketed, or exhibited. Knowing where animals are located is the key to efficient, accurate, and cost-effective epidemiological investigations and disease-control efforts.
The next step will be animal identification. Unique animal identification numbers will be issued to each animal at individually identified premises.
Opponents say while the system is voluntary right now it is scheduled to be mandatory for livestock owners by June of 2009.
At one point Parker asked for a show of hands in favor of the NAIS. Not one hand was raised in the auction barn.
Several legislators and political candidates had representatives at the meeting to state their position on NAIS.
Jeff Glenn of Sen. Jim Talent's office was on hand.
“Senator Talent feels that if we have NAIS it should be strictly voluntary,” Glenn said. “Senator Talent opposes it being mandatory and has in fact introduced legislation to prevent it from being mandatory.”
A representative of Claire McCaskill said the Senate candidate is also against NAIS.
“The federal government should not have a role in this program,” the representative said. “If the private sector wants to do it that is up to them. The federal government should not have a role in it.”
Representatives of Rep. Russ Carnahan and Veronica Hambacker were also on hand. Carnahan's representative said Carnahan was opposed to the NAIS. Hambacker's representative also said Hambacker was opposed to the NAIS.
Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, was the only public official who showed up in person to state his stance on the NAIS issue.
“The federal government should not be allowed in your business all the time,” Engler told the livestock owners. “At the state level I will stand up and say we cannot and will not allow this. We can only do so much though. You need to work on the federal public officials and send them e-mails telling them how you feel.”
Rep. Brad Robinson, D-Bonne Terre, was not at the meeting Thursday, but did say on Friday he was also against the NAIS.
“It should only be voluntary if a livestock owner wants to use it,” Robinson said. “I am against it being mandatory.”
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, was also not at Thursday's meeting, but has introduced legislation along with Talent that would make the NAIS voluntary. The legislation prohibits the Secretary of Agriculture from making the NAIS mandatory.
Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, was out of town and could not be reached for comment prior to press time.
Gary Cleve, the county executive director for the farm service agency with the USDA, said this is an initiative that is taking place at the national level.
“It's my understanding that people in our area and our legislators are dead set on keeping this voluntary. When it was originally written in the Farm Bill that was passed in 2002 I do believe a timeline was given as to when it would the system would be implemented. We have a new Farm Bill that will go into effect in 2008 so this could all change.”
Cleve disputed the opponents claim that livestock owners would be subject to spot inspections.
“I have not seen anything that says that at all,” Cleve said. “If spot inspections are part of it, I am not aware of them.”
Cleve said even though he thinks the NAIS is a good idea and that producers need to get a premises ID number, he as of now the system is not going to put any more dollars in the local beef producers' pockets.
“We don't have the demand in our area for cattle that is age and source verified,” Cleve said.