Folks opposed to the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) surely rejoiced two weeks ago when USDA announced it will develop a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the U.S.

“After concluding our listening tour on NAIS in 15 cities across the country, receiving thousands of comments from the public and input from states, tribal nations, industry groups, and representatives for small and organic farmers, it is apparent that a new strategy for animal disease traceability is needed,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I've decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal-disease traceability with changes that respond directly to the feedback we heard.”

According to Vilsack, the basic tenets of an improved animal disease traceability capability in the U.S. will:

  • Only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce.
  • Be administered by the states and tribal nations to provide more flexibility.
  • Encourage the use of lower-cost technology.
  • Be implemented transparently through federal regulations and the full rulemaking process.
On the surface that seems to suggest, well, not much of anything necessarily new or the same. Tracking livestock once they entered commerce was always the goal; state and tribal administration has always been key to success; you can’t get a lot cheaper than ear tags, even the electronic kind; and there’s already been all sorts of rule making.

“One of my main goals for this new approach is to build a collaborative process for shaping and implementing our framework for animal disease traceability,” Vilsack said. “We are committed to working in partnership with states, tribal nations and industry in the coming months to address many of the details of this framework, and giving ample opportunity for farmers and ranchers and the public to provide us with continued input through this process.”

That would be new, the collaboration part. It was the industry that proactively hammered out the basic concept of a national ID and tracking system for the purposes of livestock disease monitoring. That was the U.S. Animal Identification Plan.

In the beginning, a handful of USDA folks that the industry knows as friends collaborated as one with the industry. Then, everything went to hell in the proverbial hand basket as the higher-ups began dictating rather than listening, as companies put their interests before the industry, and all of the rest. I know. I was part of that process, like a passel of others.

Few producers were vehemently in favor of NAIS, what anyone could understand of the details spat out by the subsequent stop-and-go process. But, there was then and remains many resigned to the fact that some sort of national animal ID and traceability system is inevitable and needed.