Grassroots livestock producers are to be congratulated for their persistence in insisting on interstate livestock traceability requirements that are practical and effective. It has been a long 10-year process since producers first revolted against the originally proposed National Animal Identification System (NAIS) which was widely perceived as too intrusive, too expensive, and unworkable. The final rules that were announced just before Christmas are significantly less intrusive, less expensive, and will work well to trace diseased livestock back to their place of origin. No one really wants new rules and regulations but the threat to our livestock from the importation of new diseases or the spread of existing ones is real.
Of particular interest to the western livestock producers is that brands and tattoos will continue as acceptable forms of identification for beef cattle in commerce between the 14 brand states. In addition, back tags will continue to be used for cull cattle headed directly to slaughter. Dairy cattle of all ages and adult beef cattle in non-brand states will be required to have an official metal tag, called the “brite tag,” or another type of approved identification such as the brucellosis tag. Those of us that raise cattle in the three states bordering Yellowstone Park will, therefore, not have any further requirements to send cattle to all of the states.
The thorny issue of identification of feeder cattle in interstate commerce has been postponed and will be addressed through a separate rulemaking process. The new rule will not require people who raise poultry in their backyard to keep individual identification records on each bird, as was originally proposed. Small scale poultry owners will only need to keep the paperwork for two years when the chicks are purchased from a hatchery in another state. Horse identification requirements will not change and sheep will continue to be identified with the Scrapie tag. Hog and poultry confinement producers will also continue to use a group identity system.
As with any new rule there will be many localized issues to be sorted out, and our state veterinarians will essentially be the persons designated to sort them out. It is therefore important that producers stay engaged with their state veterinary offices to insure that the rules are reasonable and effective for everyone.
From the point of view of veterinary authorities tasked with protecting this country’s livestock from the spread of trans-boundary animal diseases, these rules are probably disappointing. As a member of the Secretary of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health, I have met a number of the veterinarians involved and can report that they are serious about their responsibilities. Naturally, they want the best tools possible to do their jobs in a timely and professional manner. Theirs is a technically complex task and requires a network of research and diagnostic laboratories along with a competent disease surveillance system. I am sure they wanted, from their perspective, a more robust animal identification system. These rules are a good compromise. Veterinary authorities will be able to trace-back diseased livestock and producers will not be burdened by excessive requirements.
In this era where we can’t seem to afford any publically funded services anymore, I don’t know what will happen to our state and national livestock disease surveillance and eradication programs as everything is in jeopardy from cuts in congressional and state legislative funding. This interstate animal traceability requirement stems from a shifting of the priority from preventing the importation of livestock diseases to that of containing outbreaks when they inevitably occur. All because of our government’s obsession on “free trade” at any cost, livestock producers have been offered a lower standard of protection and are expected to bear the higher costs directly. Both BSE and bovine tuberculosis are problems that we have imported and most of us as producers certainly did not benefit from those imports, yet we all live with the consequences. The big threat out there in this globalized economic world is foot and mouth disease. The pressure by the meat industry to relax import standards is relentless and happening behind closed doors.
We can only remain vigilant and engaged. This is why this interstate animal traceability rule is such an important victory for grassroots producers and the organizations that have represented them through this process. Some of the organizations that deserve recognition for their roles in responsibly representing grassroots producers include: Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, R-CALF USA, Western Organization of Resource Councils, National Family Farm Coalition, Food and Water Watch, US Cattlemen’s Association and the Livestock Marketing Association. In particular, we need to recognize the tireless work of Judith McGeary, the Vice Chair of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health, for her leadership on behalf of grassroots producers all across this nation.
Member of the Secretary of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health
Grass Range, MT