Friday, 09 July 2010 08:09

Horses and the Law - “The Demise of NAIS"

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.

The National Animal Identification System [NAIS]was the USDA’s plan to allow the Government to keep track of all movement of livestock in order to prevent and track disease. This plan applied to horses, cattle, goats, poultry, sheep, swine, alpacas, llamas, bison, deer, elk and aquaculture. The ultimate goal of NAIS was to provide federal and state officials with the information to identify all animals and premises that had direct contact with a disease within forty-eight hours after discovery.

Under the plan, ID numbers were to be assigned to each premise with an AIN (animal identification number) to follow. The final phase involved animal tracking. This meant that your horse had to somehow be “tagged” at an estimated cost of $2 to $35 per head. For horses, the preferred method was injected microchips. Any movement, such as horse shows, parades, trail rides, etc. all had to be reported within twenty-four hours.

As the plan developed it became very obvious that the cost to comply, including the technology to report animal movement, was excessive and could not be afforded by many horse and animal owners. The USDA conducted numerous meetings and hearings and began to realize how unrealistic the plan was. It should be noted that the plan was voluntary, although numerous attempts were made to invoke a legal timeline for compliance.

Time to take a step back and look at how we got here. Animal identification in the United States is not new. For over 200 years the country has branded horses and cattle as a form of ownership identification and to prevent theft. There was talk of developing national laws for animal identification back in the 1960s. In the 1980s, another push was made for an animal identification system.

Finally, in 2002, a National Identification Development team was developed and in 2003 a draft of the National Animal Identification plan was presented to the USDA. In April of 2004, the USDA announced the NAIS as an official program growing out of concern for worldwide health problems such as mad cow disease, avian flu, etc.

So, where is NAIS now?

The grand idea became bogged down in details and expense. Although many states have developed workable voluntary programs the Federal Government was never able to do so. Recognizing the impossibility of the task, on February 5, 2010, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, scrapped the NAIS and said the USDA would be developing “a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability.” The USDA has scheduled a meeting with state animal health officials for March of this year.

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, announced that the new framework would give more authority to and would be administered by state officials instead of the Federal Government. Vilsack also announced that the reporting requirements would be streamlined in that it would only apply to animals in interstate commerce. Under the new plan, the states will need to coordinate traceback information effectively should an infected animal be shipped from one state to another. This will be no easy task as hundreds of thousands of animals are shipped across state lines daily.

It will be up to the states to decide whether the new system will be mandatory or voluntary but the states will be required by the Federal Government “to trace back animals involved in interstate commerce.” Obviously, in order to make the new plan work, local government programs must be developed.

The new proposed program will be referred to as the “National Animal Disease Traceability Program.” The USDA has estimated it will take approximately two years to create the new program and, with formal rule-making requirements, it will be three to four more years before we see the first version of this latest attempt to trace disease in animals across the country.

The announcement to withdraw the NAIS was met with approval from cattle producers and small and traditional farmers who opposed NAIS from the beginning. However, the National Pork Producers Council said it still supported a mandatory, nationwide animal identification system and had many questions about the new plan. The American Veterinary Medical Association also had questions about the plan and, without definitive answers, it stated it could not consider endorsing the new plan at this time.

For now, we are spared from any type of national identification system involving our horses. However, rest assured, something will develop in a few years which will need to be closely scrutinized.

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

Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, PA, where a good bit of his practice involves 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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