Joint Ag Committee hears livestock bills for 2012 session
Afton – At a two-day meeting of the Joint Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee on Sept. 26-27, the committee heard three separate bills relating to livestock, two of which originated with the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB).
The Joint Ag Committee Senators Ogden Driskill, Fred Emerich, Chairman Gerald Geis and Larry Hicks and Representatives Stan Blake, Rita Campbell, Kathy Davison, John Eklund, Hans Hunt, Bunky Louks, Glenn Moniz, Chairman Mark Semlek and Dan Zwonitzer spent two days hearing updates and bills related to a variety of agriculture subjects. Committee member Senator Eli Bebout was not present.
On Sept. 26, the WLSB presented a number of updates and two bills for the committee to consider. Computerization and animal identification are the two largest issues affecting the WLSB, according to Director Leanne Stevenson, and are a priority for the organization.
“Computerization continues to be an issue,” said Stevenson. “We are trying to build a package to computerize our agency.”
She mentioned support of computerization from the Governor’s Office and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and adds that they are looking to build a package to computerize everything in a compiled database, rather than individual pieces.
“There are pieces of our agency that are computerized at this point,” continued Stevenson. “We are looking to take that data and get the brand inspection piece up to date. Right now we use computers for brand recording and animal health.”
“The bottom line is that we have programs that work well for animal health and brand recording,” added Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan. “We are using that software and those systems very effectively.”
Logan explained that currently a company from Cheyenne is working to rewrite existing programs into a supported language for successful integration.
“We will essentially have to scrap the old system and start from scratch,” said Logan. “The program is not currently written in a language that OCIO supports.”
“I will work closely with them to move this forward,” added Stevenson, noting meetings with the OCIO in late September. “We are looking at one of two phases in this program, and the next phase wouldn’t be until the next biennium.”
“I cannot give you a date when we will get that in place,” said Stevenson of computerization.
“With a change in administration, we have taken a turn in direction and are again taking a step back, unfortunately.”
On another note, Logan added that another difficultly with computerization is providing the necessary equipment to brand inspectors.
The WLSB also provided a bill for consideration involving amendments to statutes regarding indemnification for destruction of diseased animals.
“What this bill does on the surface is cleans up some language,” said Stevenson. “There is authority in the current statutes to pay indemnity, but Dr. Logan has to first make sure there is funding available.”
Suggested amendments included removal of an outdated section referencing scavies, a disease that has been eradicated, and the repeal of another section to create only one appeals process, rather than two.
“Having one method of appeals would be a lot cleaner,” said Stevenson.
Logan added that, while the proposed change would eliminate an appeal to a board of peers, essentially the WLSB is a group of peers of those in the livestock industry. The committee approved both amendments.
An additional amendment that passed provided for the use of either fair market value of removed animals or the value as appraised by a qualified independent livestock appraiser.
The WLSB also suggested amending the statute to include only brucellosis, tuberculosis or scrapie rather than all Category A diseases from the WLSB Reportable Disease List. Logan mentioned that brucellosis, tuberculosis and scrapie are the diseases most likely show up in Wyoming.
“We listed the Category A diseases originally to differentiate between those diseases and trichomoniasis,” said Logan. “We would not indemnify for trich.”
Logan clarified that the indemnification provisions are related to single or small groups of animals that require removal from a herd and would not be provided for whole herd depopulation.
The bill and its amendments were accepted as an interim committee bill and will appear on the Senate file in 2012.
Perhaps one of the more controversial topics of the session was the introduction of a bill providing a voluntary livestock identification program.
“We are asking the committee to consider what you are envisioning for a successful program and what you are using to measure success with a Wyoming identification program,” said Stevenson.
“The WLSB has some concerns, but has voted to support the bill in principle and see what the committee does with it at this meeting. We will discuss the bill again in October.”
“The basis for this program is to meet the requirements from other states for movement,” said Stevenson. “Everyone thinks this is about the APHIS traceability rule, but that is only one minute piece.”
“Regardless of whether the USDA’s traceability rule goes through, the main reason the WLSB and I want to develop a program is to be proactive and have a program whereby producers will not miss a lick when it comes to marketability,” added Logan.
Stevenson also mentioned that there are current mandatory identification programs in the state and referenced scrapie programs, as well as restrictions with brucellosis and the Designated Surveillance Area.
Some of the highlights of the concerns include the appropriations available when looking at what type of program to institute, especially when considering the costs behind programs using RFID (radio frequency identification), as well as the potential interruption in the speed of commerce with other tagging programs.
Logan’s concern in using basic tagging systems is the necessity to run every cow through a chute and record tag numbers manually. The proposed APHIS rule, as well as other states’ rules, requires that tag numbers for each animal must be recorded on a health certificate.
“If rules go through and the vets have to record the individual cow IDs, the health certificate will take all day long to do the work and will cost the industry a lot more,” said Logan.
However, though RFID tags are effective for keeping the markets moving smoothly and quickly, they are costly, and require the implementation of new computer systems in the markets across the state.
There was also concern about the program remaining voluntary only. Senator Emerich suggested a voluntary program that starts small and builds.
“I think if you are going to do this on a voluntary basis, you have to start slow and on one class of cattle,” said Emerich. “Let’s look at heifers first, for example, because we are already identifying them. I think it would be wise to start with a class that we already tag normally.”
Emerich also mentioned that the U.S. is one of only two countries in the world not requiring identification.
Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said, “We would like to see this bill go forward and see that opportunity available for Wyoming producers. We would be supportive of a voluntary, experimental program.”
A very similar bill was introduced to the Wyoming Legislature recently, and this year’s bill changed only slightly to reflect a voluntary program.
An additional amendment regarding confidentiality of records was not approved, and the committee asked for legal review to ensure the language did not implicate the state veterinarian in violations of either state or federal laws.
The voluntary livestock identification program bill was passed by the committee and will be presented to the House of Representatives.
The Joint Ag Committee also considered a bill relating to the liability of producers who knowingly sell or gift diseased animals without disclosing their status. The bill was sent by the committee to be drafted by the Legislative Services Office for consideration.
Saige Albert is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.