Advocacy in action

The National Animal Identification System

Harry Snelson

The USDA's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is an effort to establish a mechanism by which all pertinent livestock species are identified and their movements recorded to allow for tracking back to the herd of origin within 48 hours. This system would serve as a useful tool to aid in addressing animal health issues and could be a component in an overall food traceability program if linked to product identification methodologies in place at slaughter facilities and retailers. The system is composed of three key components: premises registration, animal identification, and animal tracking.

Animal identification is nothing new. Farmers have been identifying their livestock for production reasons or as a theft deterrent for almost as long as animals have been domesticated. In modern times, agriculture officials have relied on accurate identification and movement records to manage and eradicate costly livestock diseases. Starting in the 1940s, cattlemen were required to identify their cattle vaccinated for brucellosis with official ear tags and tattoos. The swine industry has had a mandatory identification system in place for animals moving in interstate commerce since 1988, and the system was instrumental in the successful eradication of pseudorabies virus from the commercial herd.

Data necessary to identify the premises involved with livestock handling, the animals themselves, and their movements have not been standardized nor recorded in a centralized database. Rapid access to this information would facilitate livestock management during an animal health emergency or disease control program. In 2003, the US Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) was drafted. The USAIP was a collaborative effort involving representatives from the livestock industries and state and federal animal health officials. This document recognized the need for a national animal identification system and developed many of the requirements and data formats from which the USDA has adapted the NAIS.

Trading partners, retailers, and consumers are calling for more information about the origin of the products they buy. The ability to maintain business continuity during an animal health emergency would be greatly enhanced by an effective identification system. It would be instrumental in conducting an epidemiological analysis of disease spread and would facilitate establishment of trading zones and disease-monitoring zones. In response to these needs, the USDA has established the criteria necessary to achieve a 48-hour traceback and the data formats necessary for establishing and recording premises identification and individual or group-lot animal identification. Work continues on the third component, animal movement tracking. The department is currently concentrating on conducting premises registration. The goal is to assign a unique standardized identifier, a Premises Identification Number (PIN), to any premises through which livestock move. PINs are assigned by the individual states, and producers can obtain information about premises registration from their state's animal health officials or at the NAIS website (

The swine industry is moving forward with an animal ID program that adapts the existing animal identification requirements, in place since 1988, to comply with the proposed NAIS. Producers are encouraged to register their premises and to begin using the PIN when identifying their premises. In addition, the industry has agreed to adopt the numbering formats defined in the NAIS for identifying individual animals as well as groups-lots. The Pork Industry Identification Working Group submitted to the NAIS Subcommittee of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Foreign Animal and Poultry Diseases a draft plan to address issues associated with identification of individual animals as well as groups or lots. This draft plan can be viewed on the NAIS website at http://animalid.aphis. content/PIIWG_Report_9_05.pdf. Since the drafting of this plan, the swine industry has formed the Swine Identification Implementation Task Force to develop strategies for implementing the swine ID program.

Currently, the most contentious debate involving the NAIS centers on how the data will be recorded. As a part of normal business practice in the swine industry, all animal movements are recorded in various formats ranging from paper records to computerized databases. If it should become mandatory to report movement data to a centralized database, the USDA is examining technology that would enable access to privately held databases by appropriate state and federal animal health officials. Additional concerns, such as confidentiality of data and who will pay for the development, implementation, and maintenance of the system, continue to be debated.

The swine industry and the AASV continue to support implementation of an effective animal identification and tracking system that does not unduly burden producers and veterinarians. The system, however, must be flexible enough to allow industry stakeholders to adapt existing systems or develop new systems for identification without adding unnecessary cost.

--Harry Snelson