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APHIS seeks comments on proposed livestock tracing rule

By JERRY HAGSTROM

The long-awaited and long-feared proposed rule requiring animal identification for the purposes of tracing back incidences of disease will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today. Comments on the rule will be accepted until November 9.

Under the proposed rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock moved across state lines would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates, Vilsack said.

The proposed system would be administered by the states and tribes and encourage the use of low-cost technology. It also specifies approved forms of official identification for each species, such as metal eartags for cattle, he added. If sending and receiving states agree, brands or tattoos could also be used as a form of identification, but all states would not be required to accept them.

The issue of identifying each animal so that it could be traced back to the farm or ranch is contentious, with meat processors and trade advocates favoring it and many cow and calf operators and other cattlemen opposing it. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture indicated that its individual member states would file formal comments on the rule, while reactions from farm, ranch and consumer groups varied.

Vilsack said in a call to reporters that the system would be better for cattle owners because it would mean that fewer animals would have to be tested when an animal disease breaks out, and would also help convince foreign countries to accept American beef.

“Through the past two years, I have listened carefully to stakeholders throughout the country about how to reach effective animal disease traceability in a transparent manner without additional burden,” Vilsack said. “We are proposing a flexible approach in which states and tribes can develop systems for tracing animals that work best for them and for producers in their jurisdiction. This approach offers great flexibility at the state and local level and addresses gaps in our disease response efforts.”

Dr. John Clifford, chief veterinary officer for the United States, said the proposal attempts to meet the diverse needs of the animal agriculture industry, the states and tribes, while increasing the ability the trace animal diseases.

“We believe reaching our goals on traceability will help save the industry and American taxpayer's money in the long term,” Clifford said.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the proposed rule is “a step in the right direction.”

“We recognize that this will not prevent disease, but it does create a systematic approach to allow for swift response when there are issues,” Johnson said. “The ability to trace, track and quarantine livestock during a disease outbreak will help minimize the economic impact it will have on the agriculture industry and rural America. NFU policy supports USDA’s action to leave animal identification for disease management to the states. We encourage USDA to move this rule through the full rulemaking and implementation process quickly.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which has generally favored animal identification even though some of its members have not, said it will analyze and comment on the rule.

“NCBA will continue to actively work with like-minded industry groups, state animal health officials and APHIS [Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] throughout the entire rulemaking process to ensure the best interests of our members,” the association said in a news release.

But R-CALF USA, another cattle group, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils said USDA had not explained why the program is necessary.

“USDA brags about the success of past programs, but has abandoned the principles that made them successful,” R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard said in a WORC news release. “Past programs were based on sound science and were developed in response to the transmission, treatment, and elimination of specific identified diseases. USDA’s new approach is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not specifically aim at the control of livestock diseases.”

Last week, R-CALF USA criticized the decision not to use brands on a national basis as a form of identification. Clifford said today that the brands can be used in the movement of cattle among the 14 states that accept them if they agree to use that system, but that it would have been unfair to require all states to set up brand systems.

The proposed rule greatly expands what animals must be identified, WORC said, including feeder cattle, which are processed at a young age and never enter the breeding herd.

WORC, which is based in Montana, contended that USDA was following what agribusiness wants.

“The large volume of the animals that USDA proposes to track could overwhelm the capabilities of state agencies, making it impossible to retrieve useful data if there is in fact a disease outbreak,” stated Gilles Stockton, a Montana rancher and member of WORC. Stockton also serves on the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health.

The proposed rule creates new requirements for not only animal owners, but also for businesses associated with livestock, WORC noted, adding that veterinarians and auction barns would be required to keep records on every tagged animal for a minimum of five years.

“Consumers need the USDA to start focusing on the animal health and food safety risks posed by industrialized meat production,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch, a consumer group. “If USDA devoted as much energy to preventing animal diseases as it has to promoting animal tracking, our food system would be in much better shape.”


Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until November 9:


By mail:
Docket No. APHIS-2009-0091
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8
4700 River Road, Unit 118
Riverdale, MD 20737-1238

Online:
Federal eRulemaking Portal