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Funding Key To National Animal ID Program

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

US - Funding will be the key to Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman's goal of advancing the nation's proposed animal identification system, reports Feedstuffs.

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So far, there is no source of funding in sight and at least one livestock group has concerns that federal funding will require new legislation to protect producer confidentiality.

Groundwork is in place, complete with a comprehensive design and work plans, for the national system as the result of almost two years work by more than 70 livestock organizations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

However, those familiar with the effort to put in place the system report that no funding is included in the fiscal 2004 appropriations bill. (All agricultural spending is tied up in that omnibus package which faces an uncertain future when Congress returns Jan. 20.)

Veneman recently announced as part of policy changes in the wake of the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in a cow in Washington state that USDA will "take the next steps toward implementation of a verifiable system of national animal identification." She asked USDA's chief information officer, Scott Charbo, to "make it his top priority." That direction from Veneman is expected to give impetus to the system's development -- particularly on the architecture of the database needed for recording the numbering system used for tracebacks.

According to Feedstuffs, such a system, which aims to be able to trace any animal to its herd of origin within 48 hours, is sought to help the U.S. respond to animal disease outbreaks or respond to a biosecurity breach.

While work has gone well on the identification plan and a key endorsement came last October at the U.S. Animal Health Assn. meeting, there are still obstacles. The draft work plan is on the internet at www.usaip.info.

"BSE does not change the need for the plan," said Robert Fourdraine, one of three co-chairs of the steering committee that has worked out its details. "We were well aware of the need."

"Timelines in the plan are already viewed as aggressive," said Fourdraine, who is the chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium and a former coordinators of the Holstein Assn. FAIR identification program. "Once we get funding, we can get some of the items speeded up," he said.

He said the comprehensive plan includes proposed deadlines for implementation, but meeting those deadlines depends upon start-up funding. Requests were made last year before the BSE situation in the U.S. was known, but nothing got into the fiscal 2004 federal spending bill, he said.

Unless USDA makes funds available from other budget lines or gets emergency money, implementation of the first phase of the project will be hard to get off the ground, Fourdraine said.

However, confidentiality of the information in the identification system, which seeks to assign a unique number to every "premise" in the U.S. where livestock is raised remains a major obstacle to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

NPPC supports the national identification program and has actively worked on its development. Still, NPPC president Jon Caspers said, "If even one federal dollar is spent" on its development, his organization fears that premise records could be available under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

"We've got questions about the security and confidentiality of the database," said Caspers, whose hog farm is in Swaledale, Iowa. Pork producers need to know from USDA if "animal rights groups can FOIA the information ... that's one thing that's up in the air. If we can't find an answer, there may need to be Congressional action to give USDA authority to maintain confidentiality," he said.

Meanwhile, groups representing all of the animal species that will be covered by the plan began meetings in January to develop species specific parts of the plan. Under the plan's umbrella, standards have been developed to cover the numbering system for all premises, the numbering system for animals and the development of the database. Each species group will be able to develop its own implementation of the plan, Fourdraine said.

A national meeting on the system will be held in Chicago, Ill., in May. Species groups will discuss their recommendations at that time.

Source: National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) - 12th January 2004

5m Editor