NAIS "opt-out" now available, but no one knows about it
By Henry Lamb
It took the better part of a year, but Calvin and Carol Whittaker finally got their name and premises registration removed from the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Within days of completing what they thought was the renewal of their brand registration last year, they received a letter from the Idaho Department of Agriculture informing them that their ranch had been registered in the NAIS.
Immediately, Carol contacted the state department of agriculture and requested that the Whittaker premises be removed from the NAIS. She was told that once a premises was registered, it could not be removed.
NAIS is a program designed primarily by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a not-for-profit trade organization, to be implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The primary purpose of the program is to bring the U.S. into compliance with international trade policy which requires a nation to have an electronic trace-back system before it can export meat products to nations that participate in the regulations.
The program consists of three elements:
Originally, the USDA announced that this program would become mandatory in phases between 2007 and 2009.
While big agri-business corporations, and trade associations such as the National Cattle & Beef Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation endorsed the program, small producers across the country rose up in a loud rebellion. The Liberty Ark Coalition, and several anti-NAIS websites appeared. Petitions collected tens of thousands of names of people who oppose the program, and the USDA finally had to abandon its schedule to mandate the implementation of the program, and announced that the program would be "voluntary."
Once the "voluntary" program was announced, The Liberty Ark Coalition, on behalf of Carol and Calvin Whittaker, confronted the USDA and asked why the Whittaker's premises could not be removed from the database, if the program were truly voluntary. The USDA recognized the position they were in, claiming a voluntary program, and forbidding people who were registered, often without their knowledge, to remove their premises from the database. USDA relented, and created a procedure for people to get their premises (property) removed.
Even though Idaho's Department of Agriculture registered between 15,000 and 20,000 properties in the NAIS without the owners' knowledge, John Chatburn, deputy administrator of the Division of Animal Identification said that there is no plan to notify these people that there is now a procedure for them to opt-out of the NAIS if they wish. He said that his department has no printed material explaining the opt-out procedure, nor is there any plan to provide printed material. The Idaho Department of Agriculture has no information on its website about the opt-out procedure. It is clear that the Idaho Department of Agriculture does not want people to know how to get their property removed from the NAIS database.
Chatburn said that if someone asks, they are told what the procedure is. He said that at public meetings, they discuss the opt-out procedure, but, according to Chatburn, there have only been "five or six" people to ask about getting out of the NAIS.
Governor Butch Otter was presented with three specific questions:
After a week of calling the governor's office for a response, John Hanian, the governor's press secretary finally offered the governor's response:
This is called passing the buck around the bureaucratic mulberry bush.
Idaho residents should call 208-332-8540 and ask if their property was registered without their knowledge, and if so, demand that their names and property be removed, as the Whittakers did. People in other states can find the NAIS coordinator in their state here, and ask what is the procedure required to have a property removed from the national and state database.
The USDA has spent more than $100 million on the program so far, and no one has yet completed a cost-benefit analysis to see whether the program makes any sense economically. A Government Accountability Office study released recently points to many problems with the USDA program.
Even though the USDA continues to claim that the NAIS is "voluntary," they provide grants to states that require a mandatory program, and to organizations such as the Future Farmers of America to get them to endorse the NAIS, and encourage high school kids to see that their premises get registered in the NAIS. Colorado now requires FFA and 4-H kids to be registered in the NAIS before they can show their animals in county fairs. This practice is coercive, at best, and at worst, it redefines the meaning of "voluntary."
Producers are not convinced the NAIS will remain a voluntary program. Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, contends that he has the authority to make NAIS mandatory whenever he wishes. Many producers who have watched the Department of Agriculture over the last decade want nothing to do with a government-controlled National Animal Identification System. Proponents of the program believe that the NAIS is absolutely necessary. Congress has yet to speak on the subject.