The USDA has released a document, NAIS User Guide, which replaces all previously published planning documents. In the preface it repeats in each of the first three paragraphs that NAIS is a voluntary program. On the next page it refers to the program as “a voluntary State-Federal-Industry partnership,” and then says this:
USDA is not requiring participation in the program. NAIS can help producers protect the health and marketability of their animals—but the choice to participate is theirs.
A few pages later the guide says this:
Participation in NAIS is voluntary at the Federal level. Under our current authorities, USDA could make the NAIS mandatory, but we are choosing not to do so—again, participation in every component of NAIS is voluntary at the Federal level. The NAIS does not need to be mandatory to be effective; we believe the goals of the system can be achieved with a voluntary program. As producers become increasingly aware of the benefits of the NAIS and the level of voluntary participation grows, there will only be less need to make the program mandatory.
This article from Beef Stocker Trends has some quotes from USDA officials:
Late last month at a community outreach event in Kansas City, Chuck Conner, USDA Deputy Secretary, and Bruce Knight, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, paved the way for the agency’s back-pedaling.
“Since we’ve had some confusion on this, we need to be as clear as we can be. This is ‘voluntary’ with a capital V. Not a currently voluntary, then maybe a mandatory system. This is a permanently voluntary system at the federal level,” Conner said.
“We’re making it crystal clear that NAIS is voluntary — no ifs, ands or buts,” explained Knight. “Farmers can choose to register their premises. They can choose to participate in individual animal or group identification. And they can opt to be part of tracking. Or not.”