Food For Thought

Say Yes to NAIS: 

Veterinarian Don Gardner Practices What He Preaches


by Don Gardner, D.V.M., Contributing Writer 


I have been following with interest and much dismay the dialogue regarding the anti-animal-identification-system movement in Virginia and some areas of this great country.

If you believe the naysayers, this is all some grand conspiracy of the federal government to snoop into our business or figure out a way to tax us more. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The concept for a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) came about from a push by concerned individuals in the livestock industry. I attended the first national animal-ID conference, held in St. Louis 10 years ago, as a representative of the Professional Dairy Heifer Growers Association and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

After the manual ID system faded by the wayside with the success of the brucellosis- and tuberculosis-control program here in the U.S. , federal animal-disease-control veterinarians were left with no efficient means to do trace-backs when serious disease outbreaks occurred. This is one reason TB in cattle is again rearing its ugly head in several states.

Most of our international trading partners have national animal ID systems and, in fact, the World Trade Organization has a branch called the International Epizootics Organization that sets requirements for such things regarding movement of livestock and livestock products. The United States has been out of compliance in this area for some time, and this is one reason we have lost some of our overseas markets. We are in the food business ó not the cattle or chicken business. Customers are requiring source information and records of management systems that

can only be met with an animal-identification

system that can follow an animal back to its place of birth.


Market Demands responsiblity

The days of anonymity, where you do as you wish with no responsibility, are over. The market demands it. These issues will have to be addressed if you wish to be successful and not just a hobbyist playing at being a farmer. Agriculture is like any other business in todayís world. It is a capital-intensive, complicated business that requires a lot of knowledge and forward thinking. For a major industry that has contributed to a positive balance of trade for years to be dragged down by a small bunch of vocal fringe groups is a

tragic misdirection.

As a result of such activistsí efforts, the federal government has backed off on the mandatory aspect of the National Animal Identification System and made it voluntary, therefore making it virtually worthless as a disease-control mechanism. After two years, only 25 percent of farms have premise IDs registered. As a result of this, a group has been formed in the dairy industry to encourage our membership to register their farm premises, called IDairy. It is composed of representatives of the Holstein Association, the Jersey Association, the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, the National Association of Animal Breeders and the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association that I represent.

Similar groups in the beef cattle, poultry and swine industries exist as well. We are all concerned that, in the event of a foreign animal-disease outbreak, such as the foot-and-mouth that devastated the British livestock industry, our trace-back mechanisms here in the U.S. are inadequate to quickly identify farms and quarantine them. During the 2006 blizzards in southeast Colorado , the National Guard used the premise ID GPS locations to find and fly in hay to snow-bound beef herds. IDairy has chosen the National Farm Animal Identification and Records system to be the dairy industryís database. In addition to the $2.75 cost of the RFID tag, all events and movements that may need to be reported for the life of the animal will cost an additional one-time 5-cents charge when the RFID tag is purchased. If a farmer canít afford an additional $2.80 per cow, then he is bankrupt already and should go ahead and get out of the business. Most beef calves that have RFID tags and are recorded into a database when born are already commanding $25 to $30 per head premium because that allows them to meet certain export markets that require age verification. Iíll take a 10 to 1 return on investment any day.


the irony of dissent

It is ironic that many members of the organic food movement are against the NAIS. It seems the only advertising message they have is running down the abundant food products that conventional agriculture produces to feed the world. Since they are constantly railing about food safety, it would seem they would want to promote accountability.

I have known our state veterinarian, Dr. Richard Wilkes, for over 30 years, and he deserves and has the utmost respect and support of the Virginia veterinary and agriculture communities. I serve that community as the secretary-treasurer of the Virginia Academy of Food Animal Practitioners, and at our last annual conference we passed a resolution recommending to the Virginia legislature that they not pass any legislation that is anti-NAIS. This same stance is endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the American Association of Swine Practitioners. 

I would hope that the responsible members of Virginia ís agricultural industry stand up for what is right and good for the future of our business. A national animal identification systemís time has come and is needed to safeguard our future status in the world marketplace. Letís not let the naysayers derail that future.

Whatís Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: [email protected], or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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