Wednesday, August 10, 2011

USDA's Proposed Rule For Tracing Livestock Open For Public Comment On Thursday

Controversial animal ID program is now user-friendly and will protect farmers and consumers, Agriculture Secretary says...metal ear tags, brands, tattos...

The long-awaited and controversial proposed rule from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that requires livestock identification when moving across state lines for the purposes of tracing back diseases will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced. Public comments on the rule will be accepted until November 9. The proposed rule comes after USDA held public meetings over the last two years in which Vilsack was beset by outraged livestock owners who do not want USDA tracking the movement of their property, nor the economic burden of long-term record keeping and tagging livestock.

“Through the past two years, I have listened carefully to stakeholders throughout the country about how to reach effective animal disease traceability in a transparent manner without additional burden,” Vilsack said during a press call with reporters. “We are proposing a flexible approach in which states and tribes can develop systems for tracing animals that work best for them and for producers in their jurisdiction. This approach offers great flexibility at the state and local level and addresses gaps in our disease response efforts.”

Download USDA's proposal for Traceability For Livestock Moving Interstate [PDF]

Under the proposed rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock transported across state lines would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates, Vilsack said. The system would be administered by states and tribes, and encourage the use of "low-cost technology." The rule specifies USDA's approved forms of official identification for each species, such as metal eartags for cattle, Vilsack said. If sending and receiving states agree, brands or tattoos could also be used as a form of identification, but all states would not be required to accept them.

USDA had previously proposed radio tags or electronic chips for livestock, but this was vociferously opposed by stakeholders.

Meat processors and trade advocates favor the rule, thanks to growing incidences of foodborne disease outbreaks, while many cow and calf operators and other cattlemen oppose it. Smallholder farmers and Amish groups last year aggressively protested the proposal.

The proposed rule also creates new requirements for businesses associated with livestock; veterinarians and auction barns will be required to keep records on every tagged animal for a minimum of five years.

Vilsack said adoption of a uniform ID system will mean that fewer animals will have to be tested when an animal disease breaks out, and that it will also help convince foreign countries to accept American beef. As US beef consumption has gone down, selling to foreign countries is a major goal for USDA, which is an enthusiastic participant in President Obama's National Export Initiative, which seeks to double all US exports in the next three years.

Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the United States, told reporters that the proposal attempts to meet the diverse needs of the animal agriculture industry, the states and tribes, while increasing the ability the trace animal diseases.

“We believe reaching our goals on traceability will help save the industry and American taxpayer's money in the long term,” Clifford said.

R-CALF USA, a cattle group, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils said USDA had not explained why the program is necessary.

“USDA brags about the success of past programs, but has abandoned the principles that made them successful,” R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said in a WORC news release. “Past programs were based on sound science and were developed in response to the transmission, treatment, and elimination of specific identified diseases. USDA’s new approach is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not specifically aim at the control of livestock diseases.”

Food & Water Watch, a consumer group, also chided USDA's proposal.

“If USDA devoted as much energy to preventing animal diseases as it has to promoting animal tracking, our food system would be in much better shape,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director.

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