USDA Bets the Farm on Animal ID Program
by WILLIAM PENTLAND & DAVID E. GUMPERT
[posted online on December 14, 2007]
In winter 2006, faced with a mandatory program that required him to attach electronic tracking tags on his animals, Michigan farmer Brad Clark sold his cattle herd, and nearly forty years as a cowboy-style rancher came crashing to a halt. Now he's a full-time electrician.
"Cows lose tags like crazy," said Clark. "They get caught in tree limbs. You get an 1,800-pound bull that doesn't want to be tagged, it's an ordeal."
In March, when Michigan became the first state to make parts of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) mandatory, requiring farmers to attach radio frequency identification ear tags on cattle and dairy cows, Clark was already among the casualties.
NAIS, which the US Department of Agriculture has been rolling out in concert with many states since 2003, is stunning in its projected scope. Over the next few years each of the nation's 1.4 million farms (plus thousands of veterinary facilities, export/import stations, livestock barns and genetic facilities) will be affected, with all their approximately 95 million cattle, 1.8 billion chickens, 60 million pigs, 93 million turkeys, 6.3 million sheep, 2.5 million goats and every other livestock species, including bison, camelids, cervids, horses and llamas. In all, more than twenty-nine species and more than two billion animals are slated to be fitted with the ID tags or be injected with transponders that transmit, to a national network of databases, information as basic as date of birth and as sophisticated as DNA profiles and chemical-residue measurements in the bloodstream.