MOFGA Position Statement on the National Animal Identification System
(adopted August 10, 2006)
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) strongly opposes the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The program proposes that livestock farmers register their premises, identify all newborn animals and flocks, and track movements of new animals from one owner to another. It is intended to cover every place where farmers keep livestock - from huge feedlots and confinement dairies with 20,000 animals or more, to small backyards where families keep three chickens to produce fresh eggs for themselves.
MOFGA opposes this program because:
- It will force people who are not part of the national and international food distribution system to participate in a registration and tracking program that, ultimately, will discourage more people from producing food for themselves and their communities. The registration, tagging, and tracking systems will require everyone with animals to file paperwork regularly with State and/or Federal agricultural authorities. The proposed system will treat everyone who has any livestock the same - as if everyone ships his or her animals into anonymous, national markets, even if the animals never leave the farm.
- The proposed tracking systems will force farmers to bear most of the costs of participation, for limited public value. Farmers will pay for tags and identification systems, and will be responsible for the costs of recordkeeping and submitting information on animal movements. Ultimately, this will raise food costs.
- The approach focuses on tracking diseases after the fact, rather than disease prevention and animal health. There is no disease prevention aspect in the system as proposed. The goal of the program is to be able to trace back diseases to their origins - not an altogether bad goal. The problem is that it appears to be the only goal. Too many public veterinary resources already are directed to these identification systems, rather than disease prevention.
- It is unworkable at the comprehensive scale envisioned. Maine's Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources (Department) lacks the human, technical and data resources to manage this program
effectively. For example, Maine, as most other states operates a voluntary scrapies certification program. Scrapies is a degenerative disease of sheep, similar to mad cow disease (however there is no scientific evidence that Scrapies poses any risk to human health). Participating farmers tag all their animals, and the Department checks each flock regularly for signs of the disease. Farmers track sales to and from the participating farms, and maintain records of sheep from flocks that appear to be scrapies-free. The USDA estimates that there are 600 farms in Maine with at least one sheep, but only 140 farms participate in the Maine Sheep Breeders' Association, and even fewer are enrolled in the first phase of the Scrapies program. If Maine lacks the resources to find, identify, and work with all of the sheep farmers in Maine, how will the State do that for all of the animals and species targeted by the NAIS?
MOFGA's Approach to Animal Health
Society must rethink the way it tackles animal health problems, and it must empower farmers to help find solutions. The Department must support these efforts directly. Any animal wellness program implemented to help prevent the spread of an animal disease epidemic should be voluntary, confidential, provide appropriate exemptions for farms not participating in interstate commerce, and emphasize a continued investment in livestock health. This will require the active participation of a wide range of farmers, as well as more technical veterinary support from the State.
- The Department should hire at least one additional veterinarian with the primary responsibility of helping all livestock producers recognize the benefits of closely and continually monitoring the health of their animals.
- In the event of a disease outbreak (e.g., avian influenza), MOFGA would notify its members, via both e-mail and letter, of the issues and how to help prevent further spread of the disease. MOFGA would
encourage livestock farmers to contact the state veterinarian's office for advice.
- Working with the Department and Cooperative Extension Offices, MOFGA will provide its members with excellent record-keeping systems for identifying animals and using that information to improve the general health and productivity of animals on the farm.
- MOFGA will provide examples of record-keeping systems that allow farmers to track both the source and disposition of animals brought onto their farms and sold from their farms.
- MOFGA's Livestock Specialists will encourage all farmers to follow the principles of organic livestock health, and work with farmers to identify breeds and lines that succeed and thrive in this bioregion under organic production systems.
- Fundamentals of animal health also require that animals be treated humanely. MOFGA staff members will integrate these principles into their work with all livestock producers, regardless of the scale of
- MOFGA encourages farmers to work closely with all livestock health resources and to monitor closely the health of all the animals on their farms.