“We're not intending to replace the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) with our program. We're talking about a single component, the database, within NAIS,” says Allen Bright, a Nebraska cattle feeder who's also taken the reins as coordinator of animal ID programs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA).

He's explaining the industry confusion created in recent months as NCBA officials have talked about the national animal ID system it intends to have in place by Oct. 1 this year.

According to Bright, when NCBA has talked of a system, it's referring specifically to developing, on behalf of the livestock industry, an industry-owned database that would house NAIS-required data and make only that data available to state and federal animal health officials for NAIS.

“What we're proposing is a non-profit consortium to provide the database and the connector to it that would allow APHIS access to the information they need to do animal surveillance 24 hours, every day of the year. This isn't, nor will it be, a profit center for NCBA,” Bright says. “We've said someone needs to take a lead on this. We've decided to take the lead. This is policy of our grassroots producers.”

Bright explains NCBA members continue to support development of the NAIS. But, unlike what USDA is suggesting in its recent Draft Strategic Plan, NCBA believes the system should be voluntary. Plus, NCBA believes NAIS data should be maintained outside of government.

Besides believing the data would be more secure in a private database, NCBA believes its approach would make it possible for producers to send their data to one database, and accomplish both regulatory and marketing needs for the data.

More flexibility

As it stands, NAIS data can't be shared with anyone other than animal health officials. So, for example, if producers wanted or needed to provide age verification data to a buyer, they couldn't do it through NAIS. With a private database, NCBA believes each producer could make requisite NAIS data available to state and animal officials, but then choose which non-health entities had access to specific data elements.

Enroute to this goal, NCBA hopes to have a database in place for testing by Oct. 1.

Of course, building such a database infrastructure may be the easiest part of the effort. USDA continues to indicate NAIS and its components are to be administered by and maintained by USDA.

Bright admits in order for the NCBA-developed database to be utilized as the database component of NAIS, consensus must be achieved with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, state animal health officials, other species groups and producers in the country. He says NCBA recently began discussions in this regard with producer groups from other industries.

As for cattle producers who aren't NCBA members, Bright says, “Response has generally been very favorable when you can explain it to them.”

Moreover, funding remains a question. Bright says it's difficult for NCBA to estimate a cost for building the database until more information is gathered this summer. Once cost is known, he explains NCBA will evaluate funding options.

For anyone wondering if accepting bids for building a database might be premature until such consensus is achieved or until USDA issues final NAIS standards and rules, Bright says, “I don't think it's premature to say we can do a database; that's pretty straightforward.

“We know the general needs and parameters, and that the ability to have flexibility within the database for future needs is key. I don't think we (industry) can allow ourselves the mistake of thinking what we start out with is what we will end up with. This will be dynamic as long as national animal ID takes place,” he says.