Utah livestock owners are being encouraged to help protect their animal production industries by registering their premises as part of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The voluntary program is needed to help protect American animal agriculture from the intentional or accidental introduction of a foreign or domestic disease, says Mike Marshall, state veterinarian.

“We encourage owners of cattle, sheep, swine and other livestock to fill out the premises registration form that's now available and return it to our office,” he says.

Marshall emphasizes the program will be administered by the same Utah animal industry employees who livestock owners have come to know and trust — and that no personal or financial information will be gathered in the premises ID process.

NAIS is a voluntary national program intended to eventually individually ID all agricultural animals and track them as they come into contact, or are inter-mixed, with animals other than herdmates from their premises of origin.

One step closer

“Already, many species in U.S. animal industries can be identified through some sort of ID system, but these systems are not consistent across the country,” explains Terry Menlove, bureau chief for livestock inspection for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). “This program brings us all one step closer in a long process of establishing a workable national ID system.”

The UDAF anticipated the startup of the program and is one of a handful of states prepared to issue premises ID numbers. The registration system includes information such as contact name, address, type of premises and phone number of the person in charge of the premises. Key pieces of information will be sent to the national premises information repository so it will be available in the case of a disease traceback.

“We asked USDA to come out set us up so we can keep our own departmental account,” Menlove explains. “We chose to keep the premises registration system in-house. That way the producer can to come to us in person, contact us via phone, through the regular mail or register through e-mail.”

After a producer submits the premises registration form (available online at www.ag.state.ut.us/animind/Utah_NAIS.html) with the required information, UDAF takes care of the actual registration process. When UDAF gets the premises allocator number back from USDA the agency will send the number to the producer.

“That's our function at this time,” Menlove says. “It gets the producer a seven-digit number that's recorded in the national system — that's all.”

Private and confidential

Menlove assures the Utah livestock industry that the premises registration system is private and confidential.

“There isn't anything contained in the premises information that isn't already in our brand book or information that's normally publicly available anyway,” he says. He's careful to point out that premises registration is voluntary.

“However you keep your own records is your business to share with anyone or not to share with anyone,” Menlove adds. “This system simply allows producers to participate in a national system of individually identifying animals if and when necessary.”

Utah will tie the producer's brand number to the premise numbers. There is flexibility built into the registration system for producers who aren't sure yet how they want to deal with specific premises. If a producer wants to register only one premise at this time, that's okay, Menlove says. If he or she wants to register other sites at a later date, they can do that, as well.

“The program is currently operating under a federal grant making the system free to the public,” Menlove says. “We're uncertain how long such grants will be available to the UDAF and how long the program will remain free to the public.”

No black helicopters

“Down the road,” Menlove says, “this is all going to take us to where we need to be in achieving national traceback goals.”

But, will agents from the federal government be able to come onto a rancher's premises if a “hot” cow, for example, is traced back to his or her location?

“That's going to be our job. In Utah we'll be calling the shots,” Menlove explains. “But, we won't come swooping down in black helicopters.”

He adds Utah animal health officials will work closely with the appropriate federal agencies if a problem animal is traced back to a premises. The UDAF will oversee quarantines, movement restrictions or depopulation if necessary to contain a foreign animal disease outbreak.

“I've never heard anything otherwise, and it's really no different than the authority we, as Utah's animal health authority, have had for years anyway,” Menlove says. “It's really not that complicated or covert, when you come right down to it.”

Utah is also part of the Northwest Individual Identification Pilot Project, which was chosen as one of 29 USDA-funded projects designed to help develop producer-driven animal ID efforts around the nation. Livestock producers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, California and Hawaii will enroll 12,000-15,000 cattle in the next two to three years, slowly adding bison and sheep to the system.

Initially, Menlove says, Utah ranchers plan to identify 5,000 head of cattle as part of the pilot program. They will use the premises allocator numbers that UDAF is presently helping producers obtain.