USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is experiencing a hailstorm of opposition to its new animal disease traceability system as the proposal reaches the halfway point in the comment period that ends November 9.
The replacement for the ill-fated National Animal Identification System, which was so unpopular with rural America that Congress cut its funding, was a late summer rollout by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Vilsack touted four standard features of the new animal disease traceability program that he thought would make it acceptable to farmers and ranchers. The four features are:
– it applies only to animals moved interstate.
– it will be run by state and tribal governments
– it will use low-cost technology
– it be be implemented only through transparent federal regulations using full rule making
If most of more than 160 comments sent to APHIS to date are any indication, the new plan is roughly as unpopular as NAIS was. “What part of ‘NO’ is beyond your comprehension?” asks Laura Richardson of Deer Lodge, TN. “This latest salvo from USDA is NAIS all over again.”
Dale Allen Taggart, from Walking Cross Ranch at California, MO, said in written comments to the agency that the new rule will make an option mandatory.
“It is written to help meat packers and is an export enhancement tool for our products, not a rule to help disease control or prevention, because it hurts the producers,” Taggart said.
“Currently, we have to OPTION to source verify our beef. This OPTION cost me $4.00 per Electronic Identification (EID) tag to purchase,” Taggart continued. “If I hit the market with my beef, and the buyer has an order for source verified beef, I get an average of $9.00 to $10.00 per head extra. This helps me keep my production of quality beef continuing to happen. Now, the USDA wants to make the OPTION MANDATORY.”
Taggart says the new proposal is a “a giant perk for the packers and a great export enhancement tool.” But, Taggart says, farmers and ranchers will have to pay, again and again, to make it happen.
Also opposed is Patricia Garland Stewart with the Ashburnham, MA-based North Country Sustainability Center. “It will make more people keep animals without proper veterinary care, cost a lot of growth in local food, and undermine the very small businesses that will grow the strongest, most diverse economy,” she says.
Not everyone is against the new ID plan. “The Colorado Department of Agriculture endorses the proposed rule; we believe it will work in unison with programs we already have to protect Colorado’s food system and livestock in the event of a disease outbreak,” says Dr. Keith Roehr, state veterinarian.
Colorado Brand Commissioner Rick Wahlert says there has been some confusion about the role of branding in the new ID program. Brands are not official identification under the rule, but two states can use brands to move cattle interstate.
Brand states like Colorado do not need to change their practices under the rule, says the commissioner.
Even before the comment period ends, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health will hold a public meeting on Friday, September 23 from noon to 5 p.m. (EST) to consider and discuss various aspects of the recently published proposed rule on traceability for livestock moving interstate.
The committee will also consider and discuss USDA’s bovine tuberculosis program, including possible wildlife surveillance requirements, test-and-remove management plans and the issue of indemnity within the context of the new bovine tuberculosis/brucellosis framework that is being developed.
In addition, just as many an agricultural group raised money and members from their opposition to NAIS, the new program is also being targeted for organized opposition.
R-CALF USA, representing independent cattlemen, claims the purpose of the new rule is to provide “source-verification information to beef packers at no cost to the packers.”
USDA sees the animal disease traceability system as a method for quickly targeting the animals involved in a disease or outbreak, an action that would benefit everyone involved.
“The animal traceability rule is extremely complex,” commented Keith Lynn Aljets at the Parnell, IA-based Veterinary Medical Clinic. “Bovine speces are the most complicated animals to trace due to their lifespan and tendency to be transported across state lines while still at a proactive range. The new rule provides too many exceptions regarding the identification of the bovine species which will prove impossible to document and trade when needed.”
Aljets says USDA needs to look for ways to reduce record-keeping requirements.