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Animal ID Gets Boost From USDA, But Time, Cost Are Obstacles

by 5m Editor
6 January 2004, at 12:00am

US - Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman last week listed a national animal identification program as a major U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy priority for mad cow disease prevention, reported Food Chemical News.

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"USDA has worked with partners at the federal and state levels and in industry for the past year and a half on the adoption of standards for a verifiable nationwide animal identification system to help enhance the speed and accuracy of our response to disease outbreaks across many different animal species," Veneman said. "I have asked USDA's Chief Information Officer to expedite the development of the technology architecture to implement this system as a top priority."

Veneman's statement "provides an element of acceleration to the work being done," Glenn Slack, president of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, told Food Chemical News. The NIAA has played host to a public-private development team that last fall unveiled a draft "U.S. Animal Identification Plan" (USAIP). Team members include representatives of industry, states and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

"We welcome the heightened priority that the administration is putting on a national identification system," Slack said. "We'll do all we can to assist in speeding it up. However, it's important not to put the cart before the horse. There are things that have to be done before you can fully implement the plan. You can't just go to RFID [radio frequency identification] tagging of every cow in the nation. It's imperative that premises ID is in place first."

Implementation of the USAIP is scheduled to take place in three phases: Phase I, which involves premises identification, is currently set to begin by July. This phase would require establishment of standardized premises identification numbers for all production operations, markets, assembly points, exhibitions and processing plants.

"Perhaps there are steps we can take to get the states to do [premises ID] early," Slack said. "There is a methodical order of things that need to be done. We can't just snap our fingers and do it."

Phase II would enable individual or group/lot identification for interstate and intrastate commerce. Phase III involves retrofitting remaining processing plants and markets and other industry segments with appropriate technology to enhance traceability of animals throughout the livestock marketing system.

If the Bush administration gives priority to the USAIP, bureaucratic obstacles will be fewer, Slack predicted, continuing, "The other big question is money. Who's going to pay for it? The secretary says this is something that's needed to protect public health. It's logical that tax dollars be spent to set up a world class system."

Although Veneman singled out USDA's chief technology officer to carry the identification plan forward, Slack said that official's involvement would be a new development. "I'm not going to say we've never heard of him," he explained. "Perhaps we've interacted with some of his deputies without knowing who they were. We'll welcome the expertise of those folks."

NIAA's Slack said that the issue of mandatory versus voluntary participation in the USAIP had not been resolved. He said mandatory participation might be put off for one or more years until everyone was comfortable with the system and USDA could enforce it.

"Industry is saying it's got to be mandatory if it's going to work," Slack said. "I've been surprised by the number of entities calling for mandatory."

Following Veneman's statement, Slack said her choice of the phrase "verifiable nationwide…system" was a clear indication that USDA would move to mandatory participation as soon as possible.

The draft USAIP was presented to the October meeting of the U.S. Animal Health Association, which gave the plan its tentative blessing. "They accepted the plan as a work in progress," Slack said, noting that the draft remains open for comment by stakeholders until Jan. 31 and beyond, if necessary.

Meanwhile, the USAIP development team has formed species work groups to evaluate the plan as it relates to beef cattle, dairy cattle, bison, swine, sheep, goats, camelids (alpacas and llamas), horses, cervids (deer and elk), poultry (eight species, including game birds) and aquaculture (11 species). "They'll analyze as to the pluses and minuses and decide what needs changing," Slack said.

The NIAA has scheduled a national animal identification symposium for May 18-20 in Chicago. The various species work groups will report back at that time.

Slack noted that the development team is also under pressure from Congress to move up its timetable. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last week sought to revive interest in the mandatory traceability legislation he introduced in June.

Schumer said in a news release that the "the failure to implement a national meat tracking system is complicating efforts to track where the beef from the affected cow went and makes it harder to track other meat-carried diseases like E. coli and Salmonella."

Industry trade associations lined up in support of a national identification plan following Veneman's statement. The American Meat Institute said the plan "will dramatically enhance animal disease investigations. AMI has a policy in place supporting mandatory animal traceability."

Terry Stokes, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said that NCBA had been involved in development of the proposed identification system, "and it is critical for us to provide leadership in implementing it." He said a uniform system might be cheaper than the current patchwork of private traceability systems. "The program will cost, but it will pay in the long run," he said.

The National Milk Producers Federation noted in a statement that it has "long supported a mandatory, comprehensive animal ID program for livestock of all ages." USDA's endorsement of that concept "will help provide the necessary impetus to make such a program an effective tool for monitoring the 100 million cattle, and millions of other livestock, in the U.S."

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 5th January 2004

5m Editor