Last month an e-mail crossed my computer screen that challenged me to support a voluntary approach to the National Animal Identification System.

Given that the pork industry has had a mandatory animal ID system of its own in place since 1989, I’m not used to the type of outcry that this individual presented.

The e-mail did motivate me to look around the Web; check out some blogs and see what people (especially non-pork-industry people) are saying about NAIS, USDA and other animal-ID related topics. It would be worth your time to look around for yourself.

Among the places that I landed was, which had a connection to the e-mail that I received. Let me just say there are a lot of fighting-mad folks out there. While I understand that government-based programs can quickly and easily bring strong opinions to the surface, I was caught a bit off guard by the passion and the direction of the discussions. 

As I read the various comments, it started to feel too much like rationalizing with environmental or animal activists. Most argued that NAIS would hurt “small family farmers, homesteaders and pet owners.” Or that “large, corporate, factory farms” were driving the NAIS effort in order to prevent people from raising a “few animals for themselves and their neighbors.”

Rarely was the focus on the need to protect the health of all U.S. animals—regardless of the herd’s size. They talked about having the most to lose if they have to tag and track their two, five, 10 or 15 animals.

I support anyone’s right and desire to raise a few animals for his or her dinner table, but I also believe that person needs to identify and track those animals. If raising his/her own meat is that important, animal identification should not be a burden. 

I am not about to support a voluntary animal identification program, because it won’t work— at least not well enough for what is at stake.

Maybe a voluntary animal ID program would work in a perfect world. You know, one where the birds sing, the sun always shines, and all sows farrow 30 large, healthy pigs a year.

But, I don’t know anyone who lives in that or any other variation of a perfect world.

We’ve seen that it takes only one infected cow to shut off the export market. U.S. poultry products are piling up because of worldwide angst over avian flu. More than 10 percent of U.S. pork production leaves our shores each year. Mix in a swine-related disease or health concern, and you will watch your market crash and burn.

The fact is, many of the folks fighting against NAIS don’t care if the export markets shut you out. Their market won’t be affected; of course, that doesn’t mean their animals won’t be. 

Yet, global experiences have shown time and again that backyard farmers with just a few animals tend to compound disease outbreaks.

There are 235,000 or so premises currently registered within NAIS, of which 4,000 are swine based. According to USDA estimates, there are at least 2 million total animal premises.

So, you see, there is a lot of work yet to do. Naturally, if you haven’t already registered your premises, that’s the first priority. At next month’s World Pork Expo, the National Pork Producers Council will have information and assistance to help you get that job done.

Don’t want to wait? You can get more information at or contact a local farm-service agency, state Extension office or state agriculture department.

Secondly, you have a job to do in terms of encouraging anyone with animals, regardless of their herd size or species, including 4-Hers and related market entities, to participate in NAIS. Talk about the right time to work on a grassroots effort.

Sure, USDA has flip-flopped on some of the NAIS program details and deadlines. No, not all of the answers are tied up in a nice tidy package; and yes, compromises have and will continue to be made. It’s all part of a non-perfect world.

Just keep thinking about what 10 percent more pork, not to mention more beef and poultry, could do to your domestic market and prices. That should motivate you to embrace the job of promoting participation in NAIS.