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NAIS in Wyoming

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Have we benefited by participating?

    With some calling on Wyoming to abandon its involvement in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS), it seems logical to ask a couple of questions…Just what would we be giving up? Following annual grant funds beginning in 2004, what have we gained through our NAIS involvement to date?
    Wyoming Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa says the original grant received in 2004 was $361,000. Romsa has overseen Wyoming’s NAIS involvement for the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) since the state first began partnering with the USDA.
    NAIS is a program, like many others at the federal level, showing a decreasing financial trend. The state was awarded $235,000 in 2005, $141,000 as a “bridge grant” that switched the program from fiscal years to calendar years in 2006, $248,000 in 2007 and $173,600 for this calendar year.
    First-year grant funds, says Romsa, were applied to pilot projects and purchase of a database system that remains in use today. Pilot project results weren’t optimum and warranted further research to see what would best suit Wyoming. “We were asking, ‘Is there technology where we can do our brand inspections and collect our animal I.D. information at the same time?’” Read range wasn’t adequate, but Romsa says emerging technology might be worth a second look if NAIS funds could be used in such a manner.
    Grants since 2004 haven’t been available for pilot projects. Instead, he says, USDA has directed its money at premises registration. Wyoming’s 2008 funds are largely being used for a premises registration coordinator and staff positions. Romsa’s salary and travel expenses, given his position as the state’s NAIS administrator, have been covered in part by the grant in recent years.
    “We can do some animal tracking infrastructure, but it’s mostly geared toward the premises database and premises registration.” That’s left technology developed by the agency – a voice entry system for brand inspectors and an on-line database – largely unimplemented regardless of its potential and long-term value. It’s also left the agency short the resources it needs to better build the state’s technological tools.
    State representatives to national NAIS discussions, like Romsa, early on stressed to USDA that much of the information involved in premises registration was already available through other USDA agencies. Romsa says he thinks the money would have been better spent on improving traceback infrastructure. In brand states, premises registration, which has quickly become NAIS’s political hot potato, is minimally useful, he says. WLSB officials have folded together animal health records and brand registrations in a system proving far more comprehensive and useful than the premises database.
    In Wyoming, Romsa says premises numbers haven’t been used in a single traceback. With only around 2,000 of the state’s premises registered, the program is largely invaluable. There’s only a one in four chance the premises in question is among those on the list. Romsa says brand inspectors and their knowledge of the livestock business in their areas continues to prove more efficient and valuable. “I think we’ve got the people who are really interested,” he says of current premises registrations. “There are some people who are a ‘wait and see’ and some people, 15 percent or more, actively fighting it. There might even be more than that.”
    While frustrated with the program’s focus, Romsa isn’t yet ready to abandon the larger goal of rapid traceback. He’s also seeing USDA move toward a greater appreciation for brands and Western issues like the need for lot identification.
    “One of the things that scare me is that I keep hearing from people that we don’t need NAIS because we have a brand program. But, they never come to us as a brand program and say, ‘What can you do and what can’t you do?’” says Romsa. “A brand program is a huge advantage, but because the brand program is geared toward one thing, verifying ownership, it doesn’t do a good job of individual animal identification.” He offers one example in which cattle from a single traceback were discovered in 20 separate states.
    “If we’re going to do it on a paper-based system that takes weeks going through boxes of books, we’re not going to trace this stuff back rapidly at all,” says Romsa, “If we could, I’d say that we can handle it, but I don’t want to sell our producers on thinking their safe or protected, when they’re not.”
    “The average traceback for tuberculosis is 188 days, that’s what USDA says it takes,” says Romsa. “On some diseases, if we take 188 days people are going to be broke,” he says. When asked to list the diseases of greatest concern when looking at NAIS, he says Foot and Mouth Disease is the obvious first choice. “You could spread it for days and never even know you’ve spread it,” he explains. “It takes about five days for clinical signs to show up. Several states could have it before anyone even knew there was a problem.” Vesicular stomatitis because of symptoms similar to FMD, brucellosis, tuberculosis and avian influenza also make the list.
    “I’m still a true believer in the need to have a rapid animal traceback,” says Romsa. “As we go out to the state and legislators our question is what do you want and we’ll do it. But, if we do it mostly through the state it’s going to take resources we haven’t had before. Whether you agree with NAIS or not, we’ve got to have something. The risks are real, the threats are real and they’re not going to go away.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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