NAIS (National Animal Identification System) is a system being proposed by the USDA that would require those that raise livestock to tag the animals as a way of keeping track of them for food safety purposes.

Independent farmers are irate, but Big Ag is ever so cooperative. CAFO owners dutifully keep track of their livestock. All 5,000 hogs in a given CAFO are tagged. Sort of. They don’t each get, like, an individual tag. I mean, c’mon. What they have is … wait for it … one tag per CAFO. That’s O-N-E tag per, say, 5,000 hogs or 30,000 chickens.

So Big Ag’s attitude toward independent livestock operations, which would have to tag each animal separately, is “Get over it. We do our duty. We tag our livestock. If a problem occurs at a packing plant we supplied, we’ll turn in all one of our tags.”

Premium Standard and Tyson say, “Get a grip. Just tag your 300 chickens, and keep track of what happens to each individual animal. And quit whining.”

The NAIS program came out of the Bush administration and is now being pushed by some D.C. Democrats concerned with food safety, but they should be leery of following any recommendations that originated in that suspicious quarter. Fortunately, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, has arranged listening tours in every state, and what an earful he’s getting.

It’s a program only Big Ag could love, because it sets up a straw man–the spread of disease among live animals–and diverts attention from where the problems have been occurring: at the packing plant. The last thing someone like Smithfield wants is more inspectors there, so they’re all about pointing the government’s head in another direction and yelling, “Look over there.” Granted, we need to be concerned with the spread of disease among animals before they get to the packing plant, but this idea is just silly–and lays extra expense on people already struggling to compete with Big Ag. We have in place the programs that would deal with such issues; what’s needed is funding to enforce them. Instead of doing so, we let Cargill, for example, buy most of its cows from south of the border, from countries that do nothing to inspect their livestock. How is tagging the cows on Farmer Brown’s land in Texas County going to deal with the issue of Mad Cow disease from imported cattle?

Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center tells me that at a recent listening tour stop, 55 livestock producers spoke. 54 of them opposed NAIS, and the one who spoke in its favor was a CAFO owner. Opponents of NAIS, and that should include us consumers, better hope that Secretary Vilsack is actually listening.

Correction: I didn’t get my facts as straight as I should have. It isn’t accurate to say that Cargill buys most of its cows from south of the border. It would be more accurate to say that Big Ag imports tens of thousands of cows every year.

photo courtesy of NAIS website