ESWG: National Animal Identification System to be Voluntary

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is emphasizing that the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will be a voluntary program and that no plans are in place to make the program mandatory.

The NAIS has been a hot topic of discussion for the past few years concerning livestock--including horses. It is a system intended to control the spread of disease and to minimize the negative impact of a disease outbreak on the livestock industry. This would be done through the identification of premises that hold or manage livestock, animal identification and the recording of animal movements. Some states are mandating parts of the system within their state, for example mandatory premises registration in Wisconsin, but the NAIS as a national comprehensive program is not mandatory.

"I've been taking a hard look at the program, basically took it all the way down to the frame and rebuilding, trying to make it simpler, make it more evident of what it's all about, trying to dispel some of the misinformation and rumor and innuendo that's been associated with it," said Bruce Knight, the new under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs at USDA in an article that appeared on Oct. 20 on the Brownfield Ag Network.

"I think the most important thing for everybody to recognize is this is a voluntary program," continued Knight. "So that means that we've got to have a program that a rancher can look at and say, 'this is worth the extra cost on my operation.'"

One of the key recommendations made by the Equine Species Working Group (ESWG), the task force developed to evaluate the NAIS and develop recommendations as to how the horse industry might be able to participate in such a system, is that no equine movements should be reported.

In their recommendations submitted to the USDA in August, the ESWG proposed that horses that move to a premises where a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), Brand Inspection, VS-127 permit or International CVI are required should be officially identified and that the records maintained through those currently existing and utilized movement permits capture the high risk movements that pose the largest threat of spreading disease. Animal health officials would be able to query the state databases in the event of a disease emergency to obtain the necessary records.

Other recommendations submitted to the USDA by the ESWG include: the standardization of requirements for CVIs; that the equine-related components of the NAIS should provide definitive benefits to the horse industry that exceed the cost to stakeholders; that when practical, the NAIS should be compatible with other nations, especially Canada and Mexico; and that USDA-approved identification and movement databases must be exempt from FOIA requirements.

If horse owners choose to utilize microchips for the purpose of official identification, the ESWG recommends use of the ISO/ANSI compatible RFID chip (11784/85, 134.2 kHz), and that RFID reader and scanner manufacturers and suppliers should make an immediate effort to provide readers and scanners that can read ISO/ANSI 11784/11785 microchips, and read or at least detect all 125 kHz frequency companion animal microchips.

For further information on the NAIS, please visit If you have any comments of questions, contact your state Animal Health Official or the USDA. For information on the ESWG and their recommendations, please visit their website,  

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