Calvin and Carol Whittaker live in one of the most beautiful parts of Idaho, a little northwest of Idaho Falls, in the community of Leadore (pronounced “lead ore” because it was a mining town when it was named). They have lived in the area all their lives, as did their parents. They have operated a ranch for nearly half a century, as did their parents. And they have been productive, law-abiding citizens.
Several months ago, Carol heard about a National Animal Identification System that would require registration of their ranch into a federal database, and the numbering of their livestock and reporting of any movement of their livestock off their premises. The more she and Calvin learned about the program, the more they opposed it.
Last May, they received a notice from the Idaho Brand Board that it was time to renew their brand with the state. Calvin completed the forms and returned them to the Department of Agriculture Brand Board. A few weeks later, Carol received a card from the Idaho Department of Agriculture with a 15-digit identification number saying that their premises had now been registered with the National Animal Identification System.
John Chatburn, deputy administrator of the Division of Animal Identification for the Idaho Department of Agriculture, says that the state of Idaho no longer registers ranches into the NAIS without the owner’s knowledge. He admitted that early on, a former state veterinarian had signed up people without their knowledge, but that the veterinarian was no longer employed by the state, and that the practice had ended.
Chatburn was familiar with the Whittaker situation. He said the Brand Board sent both a brand renewal form and a premises identification registration form in the same envelope, and that the Whittakers had registered their premises voluntarily. The Whittakers said they were shocked when they received their registration number and had no idea that they had registered in the NAIS program.
Carol contacted the Department of Agriculture and asked to have their premises removed from the registration. She was told that it was impossible to remove a premises once it was registered. Chatburn confirmed that the USDA’s number allocation system has no provision for removing a premises once it has been registered. Even if the ranch or farm is sold to a developer and the land is converted to hotels and apartment buildings, the land still carries the premises identification number assigned by the NAIS.
USDA boasts that 349,000 premises have been registered. No one can say how many of those registrations occurred without the owner’s knowledge. Chatburn says that in Idaho there are between 15,000 and 20,000 premises registered, but again, no one in Idaho knows how many were registered without the owner’s knowledge.
Chatburn says that although he knows of no way a premises registration can be removed from the NAIS database, he says an owner may request that the premises registration be “deactivated.” He says the procedure is simply to notify the state Department of Agriculture and ask that the request be advanced to the USDA.
The NAIS was introduced in April, 2005 as a voluntary program that would become mandatory beginning in 2007 with premises registration, and then mandatory animal tagging with a government-assigned number in 2008, and finally, mandatory reporting of any movement of livestock animals off their premises within 24 hours, by 2009.
This program was supported by most of the national livestock associations and manufacturers of the technology required to implement the program. The American Farm Bureau Association was a strong supporter.
When the program became public, however, individual livestock owners rebelled, and formed organizations to oppose the program. The USDA had to modify the program by issuing a new “Strategy for the Implementation of NAIS” in April of 2006. Opposition continued to mount, and the USDA had to issue a new publication in June 2006, saying that the program was voluntary and would remain voluntary. And the American Farm Bureau Association had to change its policy from support for a “mandatory” program to support for a “voluntary” program at its annual convention this month.
The USDA is handing out money to states that are working to implement the NAIS at the state level. Wisconsin and Michigan, so far, have made the program mandatory. Other states are finding that grass-roots opposition has encouraged state legislatures to prohibit a mandatory NAIS. Virginia, Massachusetts, Washington, Indiana, Michigan, Texas and others have introduced legislation to prohibit a mandatory program.
There is no legislation pending in Idaho; the program there is purely administrative at the behest of the USDA, which has given the state more than $1 million, according to Chatburn. At press time, The USDA had not yet confirmed Chatburn’s belief that a registration can be “deactivated” if the owner requests it.
Carol and Calvin Whittaker are still wondering how they got registered for the NAIS when they thought they were simply renewing their brand. They still oppose NAIS and are working every day to get free of the unintended registration, and to warn all their friends and neighbors to beware of anything received in the mail from the USDA or the state Department of Agriculture.
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