This month we received a letter from a reader east of the Mississippi River asking that his subscription to Drovers be canceled. As explanation, he offered this: “Publications that try to force-feed animal ID and more government control on me are not welcome in my house.”

Such sentiments are distressing, yet not unexpected. Agriculture, and the cattle industry in particular, has a long history of fiercely independent producers. Most believe in the concept that less government involvement is better. But clearly, there are instances where our government must step in with policy and regulations for the common good. The threat of devastating animal diseases that could destroy America’s livestock industry is one of those instances. The United States Animal Identification Plan is the answer to that threat.

As he requested, our reader’s subscription was canceled. However, it is out of our power to cancel the impending regulations that will come from USAIP. Nor would we cancel USAIP if we could.

Formed by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USAIP is defined as a cooperative effort of industry and government. The goal is to create a system that can identify all premises that have contact with a foreign animal disease within 48 hours of discovery.

But USAIP goes well beyond just effectively responding to an animal-disease outbreak. This plan is also intended to effectively conduct disease-control activities for many diseases currently impacting the profitability of livestock production. These diseases include brucellosis, tuberculosis, pseudorabies, incursion of fever ticks and others.

Tracing cattle, and livestock, through the system is critical for disease control, but the National Animal Identification System will also help reduce the financial and social impact of incidents, increase consumer demand and enhance consumer confidence in our products. For instance, our industry’s recent negotiations with the Japanese make it clear that our export markets will depend on some form of identification that specifies the animal’s age and its place of birth.

We’ve haggled with our Japanese customers over how to verify the age of U.S.-born cattle. The Japanese want guarantees that the beef we send them comes from cattle 20 months of age or younger, but they’re not confident in our ID system.

All of the rules for NAIS have not been completely established. What’s clear is that we will have an identification system, and that you’ll need to register your livestock premises sometime by the end of the year or sooner. The premises-ID system is functional in approximately 21 states and will be functional in all states by mid-2005.

To inform stakeholders about NAIS, APHIS has developed a new Web site. Available at www.usda.gov/nais, it’s designed as a one-stop resource for NAIS information, with regular updates. 

Under the government’s Fiscal Year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, APHIS will receive about $33 million to implement NAIS. That means NAIS is soon to be a reality.

If your business plans include producing cattle and calves in the future, you should start planning to comply with NAIS. You should begin by identifying this spring’s calf crop with an eartag as soon after birth as possible. You should also develop a paper trail detailing the date and place of birth of that animal. Cattle that are age- and source-verified may find premiums in the marketplace in the very near future.

Drovers will continue to report on the development of NAIS. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away, nor will it help you succeed in a business that’s changing rapidly.