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What’s next for animal identification?

February 8, 2010

Those of us on the September Leaders to Washington trip could see it coming.

Based on the presentation from USDA’s chief animal health official, there was no way the administration was going to impose a mandatory National Animal Identification System (NAIS). 

Dr. John Clifford discussed the need for animal disease trace back and the success of ID programs built around combating specific diseases like brucellosis,  but he said that USDA got the message from the series of public hearings and that the ID program was being redesigned.

In the end, UDSA decided to defuse what had become the political grenade that was NAIS. 

After concluding our listening tour on the National Animal Identification System in 15 cities across the country, receiving thousands of comments from the public and input from States, Tribal Nations, industry groups, and representatives for small and organic farmers, it is apparent that a new strategy for animal disease traceability is needed,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I’ve decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal disease traceability with changes that respond directly to the feedback we heard.”

Secretary Vilsack chose a meeting last Friday of the National Association of State Agriculture Directors to announce that he was effectively putting state ag departments in change of animal identification.   He said it would be “federally supported, but not federally led.”

USDA’s efforts will:

• Only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce;

• Be administered by the states and tribal nations to provide more flexibility;

• Encourage the use of lower-cost technology; and

• Be implemented transparently through federal regulations and the full rule making process.

One of USDA’s first steps will be to convene a forum with animal health leaders for the states to talk about the possible ways of achieving the flexible, coordinated approach to animal disease traceability the USDA envisions. 

AgWeek‘s Washington correspondent Jerry Hagstrom tried to decipher what it all meant.

Vilsack did not use the word mandatory to describe the program, but said “we have to have a system for interstate commerce,” a statement that could result in a negative reaction in western states that ship most of their cattle to other states for slaughter. 

John Clifford, a deputy administrator at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, who has worked on animal identification for years, told reporters the new system would allow states and tribes to use animal identification systems already in place to fight brucellosis, tuberculosis and other diseases and to use simple ear tags that cost producers pennies rather than proposed technology involving tags and readers that could cost several dollars per animal. Clifford said the rulemaking process could take two years and that it is too early to tell whether the federal government would install inspectors at slaughterhouses to make sure all animals in interstate commerce are tagged.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the chair of the House Ag Appropriations subcommittee, reacted this way to Secretary Vilsack’s announcement:

“I am concerned that we are moving from a single system capable of integrating and analyzing information across state lines to a collection of over 50 smaller systems that rely on different technology will be less effective for national animal disease surveillance and response efforts.”

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