Animals (and Disease) on the Move: Implementation and Implications of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)

The following post was written by staff member Stephanie Wurdock.

With the arrival of the H1N1 outbreak this year, national concern has arisen regarding the ease and speed at which a disease can move through a population. Alarm accompanies virtually all new strains of disease and rears its ugly head on a relatively regular basis. While diseases that affect humans are often the main focus, they are not the only cause for concern in the community. In 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recognized a concern for disease outbreak in the agricultural community, as well. In response, the USDA introduced the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) to safeguard the health of livestock and poultry and the economic interests of those industries. The Kentucky Horse Council, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009).

NAIS creates a partnership between the affected industries and state and federal governments whose main task is to form a fast-acting disease response network. United States Department of Agriculture: National Animal Identification System (NAIS), (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). Once implemented and enforced, NAIS will provide the USDA with the tools to (1) pinpoint the origin of harmful disease, and (2) impede the spreading thereof. Whenever there is an outbreak of disease, animal health officials will, within 48 hours, be able to identify which animals are involved, where those animals are currently located, and what other animals may also have been exposed. Id.

Producers can participate in NAIS in any or all of three ways: premises regulation, animal identification, or animal tracing. Premises regulation operates by requiring producers to identify the geographic location where their animals are raised, housed, or boarded. USDA: About NAIS, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). Currently 14,000 of 61,000 premises in the state of Kentucky are registered. Kentucky Department of Agriculture: Office of State Veterinarian, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). Producers register their premises by completing a Premises Identification Number (PIN) application on their state department of agriculture website or by contacting their state or tribal NAIS administrator. USDA: Premises Regulation, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). The application process is free to the producer and protects his private and confidential business information. Id.

Because a single report of disease such as Bovine Tuberculosis or Equine Viral Arteritis can rapidly halt the movement of animals and raise questions about their health, it carries significant negative consequences for the owner. Id. Some of these consequences include lower selling prices, lost jobs, and decreased income. Premises regulation takes the unaffected producer out of the equation and allows him to maintain the luxury to move his animals freely. Id.

Animal identification is the second way in which producers can participate in NAIS. During this process, an identification number is assigned to either an individual animal (Animal Identification Number, AIN) or a group of animals (Group/Lot Identification Number, GIN). See supra USDA: About NAIS. The AIN or GIN is attached to the animal using either an ear tag or injective responder, and it remains associated with that animal throughout its entire lifetime. Id.

The final way a producer can participate is through animal tracing, a process that allows the USDA to access animal movement records and locate at-risk animals. Id. The main component is a network of Animal Tracking Databases (ATDs) that makes it easy for producers, the state, industry, and the USDA to define the scope of a particular disease and locate infected animals. USDA: Animal Tracing, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). This is perhaps the least developed component of NAIS.

NAIS is important for the agricultural industry because it plays an important role in monitoring, eradicating, and controlling harmful diseases such as Bovine Tuberculosis and Equine Viral Arteritis that can have widespread consequences. USDA: Why NAIS, (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). The program is not, however, well received by many members of the agricultural community. These producers, owners, and associations debate the program's value in consideration with its significant costs. See supra The Kentucky Horse Council.

Some of critics' concerns are that full implementation will be too expensive for small operations to afford, will be too difficult to manage, and a will be a sneaky opportunity for the government to tax non-commercial animals. Id. Websites such as "," launched in 2006, characterize the program as a "violation to the traditional right to farm.", (last visited Nov. 1, 2009). They focus on the possibility that there would be no exceptions to the registration requirements. As a result, every Mom and Pop operation would eventually be ordered to register as "farm premises" which would entail considerable paperwork and the payment of fees. Some negative consequences, they argue, would be higher food prices, forced registration of non-commercial animals (pets), tedious record-keeping and inordinate costs to small farmers who cannot qualify for Group/Lot Identification. Id.

In order to address these concerns and encourage participation, the USDA has implemented a phased-in approach. And, although there is speculation that the voluntary program may someday become mandatory, no such steps have been taken to reach that result. See supra The Kentucky Horse Council.

During this time, while NAIS is still voluntary, the state of Kentucky and the federal government must weigh the potential costs and benefits of the program in light of the entire agricultural community. They must consider the realistic outcomes for American producers and owners, both large and small, and determine whether or not it would be possible for NAIS to enjoy the same success as it has in other countries such as the European Union, Canada, and Australia. See supra Kentucky Department of Agriculture: Office of State Veterinarian.