USDA sets sights on new plan for National Animal Identification System

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WASHINGTON — After hearing public outcry about the proposed national animal identification system, United States Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has decided a more flexible path is needed in the plan.

New plan

Vilsack announced Feb. 5 that USDA will develop a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the U.S., and undertake several other actions to further strengthen its disease prevention and response capabilities. 

“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 Vilsack in a press release from the USDA. 

Limited participation

According to the USDA, only 36 percent of producers were participating in the NAIS program. The new effort proposed will be more beneficial to small producers who raise animals for their own family or neighbors. They will not be part of the scope of the new plan.

Family farmers. Mark A. Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst at the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, called the USDA’s announcement to change the NAIS proposals “an all too rare victory of the nation’s family farmers over the political power of corporate agribusiness.”

Kastel said in a press release that the group was concerned that family farmers would be placed at a competitive disadvantage if they were forced to implement the NAIS technology being pushed by corporate agribusiness. He added farmers will be on a more even playing field and he attributes that to Vilsack’s willingness to listen to the farmers.

Kastel added that the decision illustrates Vilsack’s willingness to balance everything at the USDA from supporters of organics to controversies like NAIS and genetic engineering.

 Judith McGeary, Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, said the group is also pleased with the decision, after working for four years to get the USDA to stop implementing the national animal identification system.

More input

However, the group is asking for a broad range of groups and individuals be involved in developing the new plan for traceability.

“We need to a system that works not just for agribusiness and industry giants, but for the millions of animal owners who are responsible for animal health on a daily basis,” said McGeary in a press release.

The framework, announced at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) mid-year meeting, provides the basic tenets of an improved animal disease traceability capability in the United States. 

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. 

No one size fits all plan

Animal disease traceability is still needed to determine where at risk animals are, where they have been and when so that a rapid response can be made when animal disease breaks out. However, each state will have input on what works best for its producers.

Additionally, USDA will be revamping the secretary’s advisory committee on animal health to address specific issues, such as confidentiality and liability.

The USDA will also be taking additional actions to further strengthen protections against the entry and spread of disease. These steps will include actions to lessen the risk from disease introduction, initiating and updating analyses on how animal diseases travel into the country, improving response capabilities, and focusing on greater collaboration and analyses with states and industry on potential disease risk overall.

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