National Animal I.D. rolls on
Casper — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) received a $14.5 million boost with the recently approved Omnibus Appropriations bill. With the new administration in place, USDA officials continue to support the program.
According to mid-March information from the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA), Dr. John Clifford, the USDA official who oversees NAIS, the agency’s voluntary approach to get producers to participate “is not working.” He offered making the program mandatory or providing incentives to those who sign up as solutions. Clifford testified at a March 11 hearing before a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing focused on “mandatory” versus “voluntary” NAIS.
Clifford estimated it would take two to three years to fully implement a mandatory program at an estimated cost of $160 to $190 million in federal funding. If the agency paid each of the nation’s 963,669 cattle owners $750 a year to be registered, as suggested by one congressman, the cost would be $723 million.
According to the LMA information, “Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the full House Agriculture Committee, is a strong advocate of a mandatory program.” He strongly criticized opponents of NAIS saying they shouldn’t get “hung up” on some of the issues, like privacy and costs. “Opponents are putting the industry at risk,” he said also stating his belief that a major disease outbreak could cost between $30 billion and $100 billion without an identification program.
“I believe a mandatory system is necessary and carries with it many benefits for producers, processors, and consumers,” Chairman of the Subcommittee on NAIS, Rep. David Scott (R-Ga.) said. “A mandatory system would let us know where infected animals are, so that we could re-route transportation to prevent disease from spreading. He also noted that the current voluntary animal identification system has a 37 percent participation rate, and only seven to nine percent participation from beef producers.”
USDA spokesperson Joelle Schelhause told the Roundup March 16 that a change from “voluntary” to “mandatory” would require amendments to the NAIS business plan. Any such changes, she said, would be announced to the public. She also said that the $14.5 billion in funding put forth in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill signed last week will be used to set those benchmarks outlined in the agency’s NAIS business plan.
Georgia cattleman Bill Nutt of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association testified on behalf of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The group has concerns about privacy of the records to be held by the USDA and costs to producers. “As several incidents in recent years have demonstrated,” said a statement from NCBA following the hearing, “the federal government does not have a strong track record on maintaining information confidentiality. Furthermore, USDA cannot guarantee that the animal ID database information would be protected from release to the public under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.”
“In addition to privacy concerns,” said the statement, “NCBA is also troubled by the economic burden posed by such a system. Should a mandatory system be enacted, it is expected to come in the form of a ‘bookend approach,’ which would cost roughly $200 million per year. In addition, mandatory Radio Frequency Identification Devices – or RFIDs – used to track cattle would cost producers roughly $3-5 per head. For small and mid-sized family ranches, the additional cost of these tags would be prohibitive. “
R-CALF USA President Max Thornsberry was among those who testified at the hearing. His group opposes NAIS and believes it will do very little to help the industry in the event of a disease outbreak. He also questioned statements that the effort would complement efforts to improve food safety.
“If Congress and USDA are serious about preventing the spread of animal diseases, they first need to strengthen our border controls to prevent the continued reintroduction of diseases into the United States,” said Thornsberry. “There is absolutely no need to require individual producers to register their livestock and their real estate in a federal registry.”
Closer to home, Wyoming Livestock Board Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa said, “We’ve been told things are on hold.” The agency submitted a grant request for NAIS funding at the end of January, but hasn’t yet heard back on whether the request will be funded. “If grants go through we’ve been told we’d only get about a third of what last year’s grant was. If that happens we’ll probably only be involved in premises registration.”
Schelhause said this year’s grants are focused on improving livestock traceability within the states and will again be available to states that have requested such funds.
Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.