In 2005, Texas lawmakers passed a law allowing the Texas Animal Health Commission to create criminal penalties for failing to register animals with the government. This came in response to the threat of a federal directive mandating the registration of premises and animals referred to as the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). Now, Sen. Kevin Eltife has filed SB 682 to ensure that the Texas animal identification program remains voluntary unless the federal government requires a mandatory program.

In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a Mandatory Premises Registration Directive, requiring all farmers and ranchers to register their premises with the government. However, the USDA backed down after a protest by R-CALF, the national cattle producer`s organization. R-CALF argued the USDA had overstepped its authority, because Congress has not passed legislation authorizing a mandatory program.

The relief from Washington may be temporary and, moreover, under the Texas law passed in 2005, the Animal Health Commission could make participation mandatory even in the absence of federal action. That’s why Sen. Eltife’s legislation is needed.

A mandatory program is touted by supporters as necessary to prevent the spread of disease. However, in the free market, farmers and ranchers have an economic incentive to take steps to prevent disease among their animals. The NAIS overreaches, as it requires all animals to be tagged with electronic tracking devices and owners to report to a data base within 24 hours any births, deaths, ownership transfers, and changes in location.

It also overreaches by including all livestock species including cattle, bison, deer, elk, llamas, alpacas, horses, donkeys, mules, goats, sheep, swine, all poultry species, and fish. Small ranchers and farmers would be forced to tag each individual animal at a cost ranging from $3 to $20 per head. The requirement would even apply to anyone who owns any single animal other than a household pet.

By passing Sen. Eltife’s legislation, lawmakers can ensure participation in Texas remains voluntary until and unless there is a federal mandate. Accordingly, the legislation could prevent an unprecedented intrusion into the operations of farmers and ranchers across the state.

– Marc Levin