A diverse group representing many segments of agriculture is working to ensure the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) receives well-rounded guidance on the implementation of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the state.

NAIS is a voluntary premises and animal identification program that VDACS is administering in Virginia for the U. S. Department of Agriculture. The group, known as the Virginia Animal Identification Working Group, includes producers representing a variety of different species and farm sizes, a private veterinarian, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech faculty, agricultural organizations, VDACS employees, and USDA employees.

“With the variety of viewpoints and input provided by the Working Group, we are better able to increase outreach to producers who may not be aware of the voluntary NAIS program and to explain that animal identification is all about animal health,” said Dr. Richard Wilkes, D.V.M., state veterinarian and director of the VDACS Division of Animal and Food Industry Services.

“To respond quickly to an animal disease outbreak, knowing where livestock animals are housed and about their off-farm movements will mean less impact and faster recovery time. Recent occurrences of equine herpes virus-1 in northern Virginia and low-pathogenic avian influenza in West Virginia point to the continued need for better surveillance of and response to animal disease events,” Wilkes added.

At a meeting held May 4, 2007 in Waynesboro, Va., the Animal Identification Working Group learned that premises registrations in Virginia now stand at over 4,300.

Although NAIS does not require Radio Frequency identification (RFID) and has approved the use of visual tags, representatives from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech updated meeting attendees on the progress of a major demonstration project that will introduce RFID technology at several Virginia livestock markets and analyze the potential impacts on market operations.

The project is funded by a $220,000 cooperative agreement between VDACS and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and is viewed by market operators as an opportunity to modernize their operations and be more competitive. Results from the project are expected to be available in early 2008.

At the meeting, the group also discussed a number of challenges facing NAIS in Virginia, and identified several facts regarding NAIS that challenge misconceptions about the program.

The facts include these:

• NAIS is completely voluntary — but strongly encouraged — at the national level and in Virginia.

• Animal owners do not have to use a computer at any time under NAIS. Producers can register their premises using paper forms.

• Radio Frequency identification (RFID) tags are not required by NAIS.

• There are no costs associated with premises registration under NAIS in Virginia.

• Animals do not have to be tagged at birth under NAIS, which seeks to track animals as they move through commercial channels, rather than movements around the farm.

• Federal law protects individuals’ private information and confidential business information from disclosure. Animal health officials will request access to animal movement and location records only in the case of a disease outbreak or animal health event.

The working group took note of a conference held at Virginia State University in Petersburg, Va., where USDA provided participants with additional information about NAIS and an opportunity to work together to develop and implement outreach strategies designed for the needs of minority producers and communities.

The next meeting of the Virginia Animal Identification Working Group is tentatively scheduled for July 20, 2007 in Waynesboro. More information on the NAIS program in Virginia is available at www.VanimalID.info.