It's come to this...apparently and maybe.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will become mandatory in early 2009 unless 100% of livestock premises --estimated at around 2 million by USDA -- are registered, 100% of livestock born that year are registered, and unless movement data is recorded for at least 60% of the livestock in commerce that are less than one year of age.

That according to the Implementation Plan for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) unveiled by USDA last week. Neither USDA Secretary Mike Johanns nor John Clifford, chief veterinarian for APHIS, was near that direct during a conference call announcing the plan last Thursday. However, the implementation plan (animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais) does contain a contingency for mandating the system to force producer participation.

What the plan doesn't contain is any mention of cost to producers. During the aforementioned conference call, the closest Johanns came to addressing the subject was to say, "USDA has invested a rather substantial sum of money in the system to get it up and running...President Bush has been most supportive, even placing funds into his own budget."

More to the point, USDA has thrown about $85 million of tax money at developing NAIS so far. Depending on your vantage point, that money hasn't bought much so far, other than getting about 10% of all livestock premises registered.

Well, that, miles of red tape, canyon-wide industry divisiveness over the issue, a federal NAIS data repository that was shelved at the 12th hour, and a mountain of cooperative field trials and projects. Incidentally, based on the conference call, while these cooperative projects were presumably going to be used to guide NAIS implementation, Johanns hasn't yet seen a final report on them.

USDA's implementation plan calls for having 25% of all premises registered by January 2007 (more than twice the current total); 70% of all premises and 40% of all livestock entering commerce registered by Jan. 1, 2008.

Just meeting the premises-registration goal on a voluntary basis would seem wishful thinking at this point. As an example, Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) commissioners recently tabled a meeting where they were to consider proposed regulations to mandate premises registration in that state. At the time, Bob Hillman, TAHC executive director and state veterinarian, explained, "We are seeking from USDA clear direction on NAIS timelines for implementation."

Then there are states like Tennessee where some folks don't want anything to do with NAIS, period. A bill is floating around that state's House of Representatives that would make NAIS illegal there.