horsesandlaw
Tuesday, 17 August 2010 08:59

Horses and the Law THE NATIONAL ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM–IS IT THE LAW?

Written by  Kenneth C. Sandoe, Attorney-at-Law
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Disclaimer - This article is intended as general discussion and information on the topic covered, and is not to be construed as rendering legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should contact an attorney. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

In April, 2004, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) as a program designed to trace back, within 48 hours, any animal infected or exposed to a foreign or domestic disease. The NAIS program was developed due to the growing concern over worldwide health issues such as mad cow disease, avian flu and the like.

The NAIS program is a cooperative Federal-State-industry effort administered by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The purpose of NAIS is to develop and implement a comprehensive information system which will include animal disease monitoring, surveillance, detection, and response in order to control any outbreaks of foreign or domestic disease.

When an animal disease is detected, it is important to find out where the infected animal has been. The answer to this question is critical in determining what other animals were exposed and estimating the size and scope of the outbreak area. The more quickly this can be accomplished the less likely the disease will spread. As stated, the ultimate goal of the NAIS is to provide State and Federal officials with the information to identify all animals and premises that have had direct contact with a disease within 48 hours after discovery.

The NAIS program is currently a voluntary program. However, regulations are changing daily and a proposed timetable makes many of the voluntary actions mandatory at a later date. Currently, animal owners and meat producers can voluntarily participate in the program to test the system and offer feedback to help make the system workable and offer practical solutions.

If this program becomes mandatory it will affect every horse owner in the United States. The NAIS system will have an impact on every horse owner’s record keeping and identification processes, all of which must be adequately planned and developed. The NAIS covers the following species and/or industries:

  1. Horses, cervids (deer and elk), poultry (8 species including game birds);
  2. Swine, sheep, goats, camelids (alpacas and llamas);
  3. Bison, beef cattle, dairy cattle;
  4. Aquaculture (11 species).

It is important to note that every owner of one of the above animals, even if the number is one, is covered by the NAIS program.

The program has three phases of implementation. The first phase is premise identification. Each premise or location that manages or holds covered animals is to be identified in a federal databank with a unique seven character identifier which is recognized as a premise identification number or PIN number. The goal is to have every premise registered by name, home address, telephone number and global positioning system (GPS) to quickly identify the premise in question.

The main purpose of the premise identification is to be able to plot locations within a radius of an infected premise to help determine the potential magnitude of contagious disease and the resources needed to contain it. If the infected premise is not registered, it could take weeks for animal health officials to contain susceptible diseases and determine the potential spread. Premise identification is designed to contain the spreading of the disease and eradicating the problem.

The second phase is individual and/or group identification of animals. Under the system, animals are identified individually with a unique animal identification number known as “AIN” or, if managed through large animal production, as a group or lot identification number known as a “GIN.” Under the system, for an animal to leave its birth farm, the owner must obtain an AIN which will be kept in a national database. Further, animals will have to be registered if they leave the premises for any reason. Identification devices will be required and differ among species. For example, ear tags are typical for cattle while other devices such as microchips are used for horses. As horse owners, it appears the ID will be microchips containing a radio transmitter so that chips can be read from a distance.

The third phase is referred to as animal tracking. This is the most controversial aspect of the program. As animals move from premise to premise, the AIN or GIN will be associated with a new PIN while the animals maintain their original identification numbers. Each movement must be reported. The report must include the AIN or GIN, the PIN of the receiving location, and the date of the animal or animals’ arrival at the new PIN. The ability to achieve the goal of the 48-hour trace back can only be accomplished if animal movements are recorded in a timely manner. The system currently proposes that notice must be given within 24 hours of the movement.

As is evident, the changes which will need to be made to the meat industry as well as the small farmer are substantial. Processing plants will need to retrofit facilities to utilize ID devices. Numerous ID devices are going to need to be obtained and upgrades in computer software to handle the database requirements will be a must. The reporting requirements on movement of animals will also require a disciplined approach in order to comply. The cost to the industry as well as the small family farm will be significant. Some of the costs which are currently being discussed and which will be paid by the owner will include premise registration fees, individual animal ID fees, animal movement reporting fees, electric tags or chips, electronic readers, home computers, reporting software and internet access. The list can go on and on. These costs will be borne by the animal owner.

At the present time the USDA is proposing the following timeline:

  1. July, 2005 – premise registration in all States operational (voluntary compliance);
  2. July, 2005 – animal identification number system operational (voluntary compliance);
  3. April, 2007 – premise registration and animal identification “alerts” sent out;
  4. January, 2008 – premise registration and animal identification mandatory;
  5. January, 2009 – entire program mandatory including reporting of defined animal movements.

Should the USDA propose to make the recommendations mandatory it will have to follow normal rulemaking processes, including public opportunity to comment on the proposed regulations. At the present time, the USDA is planning to hear from the public on the NAIS program. The public comment is scheduled for sometime in July, 2006. I suggest we keep our eyes and ears open for the public comment period and submit our comments at that time. If the NAIS system is implemented, it will certainly be one of the biggest changes in horse owner operations that has come along in years.

The goal of the program is worthy. The question is whether or not it is realistic. This will remain to be seen. In the interim, your thoughts and suggestions should be shared with your Congressman on this very important matter.

Enough legal talk—it’s time to hitch horses!

Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of hispracticein-volves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six-horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.

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