Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns thanked audiences at the ID INFO EXPO 2006 for making progress on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), all the while noting its complexity and acknowledging its challenges. And he assured attendees that NAIS will remain a voluntary program for the foreseeable future.

As far as progress is concerned, current figures indicate that more than 300,000 premises, or about 20 percent, have been registered throughout the country. That’s due to the fact that all 50 states, five tribes and two territories now have premises registration plans in place. That was not the case even a year ago.

Meanwhile, USDA efforts remain focused on a voluntary national ID program. “I believe that the best system is going to be driven at the ground level by you, by producers, by those who are involved in it,” Johanns says. “Today we have strong private sector involvement that is building this plan, and it's a voluntary system.”

He adds, “I firmly believed then, and now nearly two years into this job as Secretary of Agriculture I continue to believe today, that the best innovation, the best price competition, the best opportunity for producers is the voluntary system.”

Johanns contends that the growing pains the systems is currently experiencing are much like those other countries have faced. They are magnified, however, because the U.S. livestock industry is so much larger than that of any other country with a national animal ID program. “We are biting off a big, big issue,” he says.

The Secretary also acknowledges several thorny challenges that must be worked through if the program is to succeed — namely, confidentiality and cost.

Regarding cost, Johanns maintains that competition and market forces will drive ID technology and infrastructure cost down for producers. “A competitive system includes price competition,” he notes.

As to confidentiality concerns, the Secretary stands firm on the premise that producer information must remain closely guarded and restricted access by animal health officials, and just animal health officials, is authorized only when absolutely necessary.

“I agree wholeheartedly with livestock producers who believe that information about your livestock is your business, period,” he says. “In today’s very highly competitive marketplace, a farm or a ranch’s operations should remain confidential, they should be protected. Let me assure you that names and address are protected under the Privacy Act so that information cannot and would not be released.”

Johanns promises that USDA will release a comprehensive document addressing these and other issues regarding NAIS soon.

Finally, Johanns concluded with a plea for leadership and continuation of progress. “The day will arrive in all likelihood, where this is going to look like one of the wisest choices made in our animal industry ever.”

Source: Zimmcomm and the National Institute for Animal Agriculture