The livestock industry wants the government involved in the national animal identification system. And yet it doesn’t want the government involved.
It looks like the wish will be granted.
Confused? So am I.
The current National Animal Identification System, or NAIS, is headed down a private drive. USDA announced in late August the NAIS will be a public/private partnership. The private sector will develop and maintain the databases; the USDA will have access to information through a single “privately held, animal-tracking repository.”
This is a shift from a previous stance that the data repositories would best be managed inside USDA.
Back to basics. The reality is there is a need for an animal ID system. The U.S. has been slow to accept it, but the wheels are now moving after a cow in Washington state gave the machine a little push back in December 2003.
Without a way to trace animals, an outbreak of mad cow disease or foot-and-mouth disease could cripple U.S. agriculture.
And if you think the cost of animal ID is expensive, it’s nothing compared to the cost of mass euthanasia, disease eradication, animal indemnification, cleanup and recouping consumer confidence. One estimate is that a foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the U.S. would result in economy-wide losses between $40 and $60 billion.
The U.S. has moved forward to identify farms, or premises, with a single unique code. More than 100,000 premises are now registered, and all 50 states have the premise ID capability. That’s the easy part.
House hearing. The House Ag Committee, which urged USDA to follow the private route, held hearings last week to review development of such a system. That’s the hard part.
Jodi Luttropp, representing Holstein Association USA and its ID program, said the USDA announcement was welcome news. “Producers like the idea of having the opportunity to choose who they want to work with,” Luttropp testified, adding the private sector will also drive competition.
And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which has always been wary of mandatory animal ID and also applauded the push toward private sector involvement, is pushing for an “independent, multi-species, nonprofit consortium” to administer the program and have ultimate oversight.
Not everyone is happy. But Chuck Kiker, a director of R-CALF, says USDA is headed down the wrong course.
“If USDA insists upon a mandatory animal identification program, it should be as far removed from the political process and from the profit-generation process as possible.”
And Joy Philippi, testifying Sept. 28 on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council, said requiring the pork industry, which has had a mandatory swine ID system in place since 1988 to trace interstate commerce, to participate in a private multi-species database would tack on additional costs.
One thing is clear: No one ID system works best for all species. What’s not as clear is whether anyone knows what will work to link those systems. Or who will pay for it all.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)