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In the United States, the National Animal Identification System is a program meant to track a number of different animals, some which are meant to be sold for food commercially and some which are not. Strictly speaking, the program is voluntary. However, many government programs and some types of farm aid are tied to participation with the program, making it difficult for livestock farmers not to become involved at some point.
The main goal of the National Animal Identification System is to enable the tracking of animals in the case of a disease outbreak. In such cases, determining where the animals came from could be critically important to determining what other animals may be affected. In some cases, this could affect the entire food supply.
When a disease outbreak occurs, health officials need to know three critical pieces of information. The first is which animals were infected or involved in the outbreak. The second is the location of those infected animals. The third is what other animals may have been exposed to the disease. The National Animal Identification System would help in identify all three of these pieces of information.
One of the key features of the National Animal Identification System is its tracking of animals in the system. Whenever an animal is sold or moved, the National Animal Identification System makes a note of that fact. At some point, this information may be used in the labeling so that all consumers will know where the meat was at which stage in the process, both alive and after butchering.
Criticisms of the National Animal Identification System center around the types of animals that are required to be tracked, and the perceived double standard between corporate farms and smaller family farms. All farm animals may need to be tagged by those who participate. However, larger farms can identify their animals as a whole, not individually, which may offer them an advantage. Further, all large farm animals, even those not used for food, would need to be in the program, adding further costs to the program.
Further, those against the National Animal Identification System say it will only increase food costs and government red tape. While it may make the food system safer, the fees associated with identifying every animal will be passed to the consumer, critics say. Doing so will only hurt the U.S. food industry and make it harder to compete overseas, they contend. However, some overseas markets require an identification system detailing every move, out of fears of bovine spongiform encephalitis, known as mad cow disease, and other common animal diseases.