Wallis: End Wyo involvement in national I.D. program
Recluse – “I am adamantly opposed to USDA’s animal identification program,” says Representative Sue Wallis of Recluse. She is sponsoring legislation that would prohibit Wyoming’s future participation in the program or the acceptance of federal grant dollars to further the effort.
“They were going to make it mandatory by 2009,” says Wallis of USDA’s original goals to implement the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), “but they hit enough opposition that they backed it off to voluntary. They’re giving grants to states and instead putting pressure on the states to make it mandatory.”
“It says we will not be part of a federal effort and we will not accept federal money to do so,” says Wallis of her legislation. “This is in no way meant to impede our traditional brand program or enhancements on a state level.”
Wallis says she isn’t opposed to free market endeavors, but questions the government-led effort.
“We’ve tried to run a voluntary program,” says Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) agency director Jim Schwartz who fears ending Wyoming’s involvement in NAIS could have huge impacts. “We’ve had 2,000 producers sign up for premises registration numbers and a lot of them are using that information for marketing advantages and for source and age verification.”
Lysite rancher Rob Hendry utilizes individual animal identification as a marketing tool. “It’s the R-CALF sentiment where you don’t want anything to do with national identification, but in the next breath you support country of origin labeling,” says Hendry. “You’ve got to have more than a brand or an earmark to get that done even if you live in the United States. I’m all for COOL, but if we’re going to make Canada mark their cattle, then we need to mark ours.”
“Yes, it’s a cost,” says Hendry. “But two years ago we got the most money we’ve ever got for a calf. Last year was 30 cents a hundred higher than I thought it would be.” Hendry doesn’t think a move by Wyoming to abandon the program would cripple his marketing ability, but he hates to see that which he considers a backwards step.
“Our policy states that we oppose any mandatory system,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna noting the current program in Wyoming is voluntary. “As I read it now, it would nullify verification programs and that certainly concerns me. It would repeal a law we worked hard to pass a few years ago dealing with confidentially of any information gathered as part of an animal identification system. At this point we’ve got some real concerns with the bill.”
“The concerns I have are along the lines of overall funding of the Livestock Board,” says Wyoming Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton. “We need to look and make sure we have adequate funding for the Livestock Board to take care of the things we need to get done. It comes at a difficult time for the Livestock Board and I don’t know that striking at the NAIS thing right now is maybe the first step we should take.” Hamilton would like to see the federal government do more to incorporate existing brand programs in their national goals.
“It would have huge financial implications,” says Schwartz noting that the agency has received anywhere from $50,000 to $275,000 annually from the federal level to enhance animal identification and traceability. “We’ve used it to purchase equipment like computers and paid our brand inspectors for time to make sure we have adequate traceability.” Of funds anticipated this year Schwartz adds, “They’re talking about $170,000.”
“We’re for what she’s doing,” says Independent Cattlemen of Wyoming (ICOW) President Judy McCullough of Moorcroft of Wallis’ bill. “What’s confusing people is they’re thinking we’re against individual animal I.D., but we’re against USDA having a central database and control of it.” She says signing up for NAIS equates to signing away part of one’s private property rights. “You give them the right to come on your place without a warrant to check and do a search at all times.” She says similar measures are being considered, or in some cases have already passed, in other states.
“One of my objections is that they don’t have any authorization to do this. It’s something USDA, software manufacturers and feedlot owners thought up,” says Wallis. “Part of the problem with the USDA thing is that it’s going to require an international 15-digit number unique to every animal. My neighbors have a flock of geese and they’re going to have to have a number for every goose.”
“NAIS represents a massive intrusion to people’s lives, because individuals will have to provide detailed information about their property, businesses and their own movements to government and private databases,” wrote Wallis in an opinion piece on the subject. “There is a huge burden on property rights, because the premises registration number will attach to the land forever, and your right to manage your land and animals will be restricted.”
“I’m proud of what I raise,” says Hendry. “I want my name on it.”
Wallis’ legislation will come before the 2008 Budget Session of the Wyoming Legislature when it convenes in Cheyenne on Feb. 11. It will require a two-thirds vote for introduction. Jennifer Womack is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.