Wyoming withdraws from NAISWritten by Jennifer Womack
Cheyenne — Wyoming Livestock Board members, meeting in Cheyenne Aug. 21, voted to abandon their agreement to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in implementing its National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
According to agency director Jim Schwartz, the agreement amounted to $140,000 in grant money. Schwartz says the split decision by the board resulted in the agency’s lost ability to utilize those funds in developing what some had hoped would be a state-level program.
“I had signed the contract,” says Schwartz, “but hadn’t spent anything.” It’s now a matter of sending the money back. Asked if other states are taking similar measures, he says most see this year’s disbursement as the last they’ll be offered and aren’t refusing the funds. Congress, citing expenditures surpassing adequate progress, is amidst debates on the future of NAIS funding. If funding continues, it will likely be at a much-reduced rate.
Gillette rancher and veterinarian Eric Barlow brought the resolution to reject the NAIS agreement. “After reviewing the work document which outlined what we would do with the money,” says Barlow, “it did not appear to me to be building on a national program or being used to establish or fortify any program the WLSB has implemented.”
Barlow says that some members expressed hope the funds could be used in advancing the agency’s computerization efforts. “Maybe we could have, if that’s what we would have asked for,” says Barlow. “Either we didn’t ask for that or USDA rejected it.” Barlow says the way he read the plan of work the money would have been used to register premises, educate producers and hire staff for a six-month period for the purpose of doing those things.
Brent Larson of Laramie and Liz Philp of Shoshoni, sheep producer representatives on the board, were the two dissenting votes to the resolution.
With 1,800 registered premises, Philp says more were awaiting processing. Recent brand renewals included information on premises registration. As someone who has participated in the national scrapie program she says, “It’s not difficult at all. It’s just a metal tag we put in.” She says the program has greater than 90 percent participation.
Larson says while he doesn’t support NAIS, he did see the opportunity to use the dollars to advance Wyoming’s programs. He wanted the agency to seek amendments to its agreement with the USDA on how the dollars would have been spent.
“I thought we could make it work for us,” says Larson. “Why not rework the plan and use the $140,000 to build something that would work for Wyoming?”
Appreciating the need to preserve the marketability of Wyoming livestock, Barlow says he suggested that staff form a working group, including industry representatives, to look at existing programs and how they can serve as the underpinning of a Wyoming-based program. Barlow says an exploratory document along those lines has been drafted by the agency.
Larson, given the $800,000 in budget cuts the agency took earlier this year, isn’t sure where the money for a state-level program will come from. He says most people he visits with are in favor of 48-hour traceback ability on livestock, but he says the current brand program alone can’t accomplish that goal.
“The thing with brands,” says Philp, “is that they identify ownership but they become confusing as soon as an animal crosses state lines.”