The program will only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce and will encourage the use of low-cost technology.

USDA Abandons Stalled Animal ID Program

Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday it has abandoned a program that was intended to trace the movement of farm animals around the country but garnered little support from farmers.

Instead, the department announced plans for a new, more flexible program to be administered by states and tribes to strengthen disease prevention and response. The program will only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce and will encourage the use of low-cost technology.

The decision came after Agriculture Department officials heard widespread opposition to the national animal identification system at 15 meetings around the country last year. “They finally came to their senses,” said Mack Birkmaire, a cattleman in rural Joseph, Ore., laughing in a telephone interview.

Implemented in 2004, the voluntary program was intended to pinpoint an animal’s location within 48 hours after a disease is discovered, to better prevent and respond to outbreaks. Last year, just 36 percent of farmers and ranchers were participating.

Among the concerns: The cost is too high for small farmers; the regulations amount to bureaucratic suffocation; the program neither prevents nor controls disease; and what’s in a farmer’s pasture is nobody’s business.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the federal government remains committed to working collaboratively with states, tribes and the industry to build the new program. “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,” Vilsack said in a statement.

Paperwork follows all of his cattle to sale, Birkmaire said, leaving no reason why the government can’t find out in a very few hours what ranch the cattle came from in the event of an emergency. “It sounds a little better, if the states are to have a bigger role,” he said. “We still have to keep an eye on government, whether it’s the states or the fed, but it sounds like a step in the right direction.”

Dave Scott, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said he was both surprised and pleased by the decision. The association has always backed a voluntary program, opposing a mandatory one because of the financial burden it places on ranchers, Scott said. Texas is the nation’s leading cattle-producing state.

Under the previous program, farmers were to have voluntarily registered their properties with their states by January 2008. Mandatory reporting of livestock movements was to begin one year later. As of March 31, 2009, the USDA had obligated $119.4 million toward the program, which it said would help ensure the safety of the food supply, particularly for export markets that may refuse to accept U.S. beef, pork or poultry during a disease outbreak.