Animal ID opponents sound off | TSLN.com

Animal ID opponents sound off

Chris Clayton

TSLN file photoOpponents of a mandatory animal ID program are responding to government proposals that would expand the National Animal Identification System.

OMAHA (DTN) — Opponents to USDA’s National Animal Identification System may have felt slighted at a congressional hearing last week, but they are responding aggressively to government proposals that would expand animal identification.

Last week in Congress, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry held a hearing in which opponents in the cattle industry had limited time to make a case against animal ID, while it was clear many on the subcommittee supported a mandatory NAIS, including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

After the hearing, R-CALF President Max Thornsberry, a Missouri cattle producer and rancher, criticized the apparently pro-NAIS appearance of the hearing.

“Rather than listen to the recommendations of actual livestock producers, Congress and USDA are listening to the eartag companies and meatpackers that stand to make millions of dollars, if not billions, off NAIS,” Thornsberry said.

R-CALF also sent out an alert to about 3,000 members urging them to send letters to the subcommittee making it clear they oppose any attempts to make NAIS mandatory. “Timing is everything,” the alert states. “Please help us get thousands of letters from livestock producers, main-street businesses and consumers faxed to the subcommittee before March 20.”

In a letter template, it states USDA and Congress “are using fear tactics to justify NAIS.” Further, R-CALF sees the “problem NAIS is supposed to solve is not real; it is speculative.”

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NAIS was created by USDA as a livestock tracking system that would help USDA and state veterinarians track down animals in a disease outbreak within 48 hours. Advocates have also touted that a comprehensive animal ID system would help the U.S. in re-establishing or keeping foreign trade should an outbreak occur.

Opponents argue NAIS is an invasion of privacy for livestock producers who would have to provide information on their farms, or “premises” to USDA and would potentially have to tag all their cattle to be tracked throughout their lives. Besides the potential that the federal government could change its position on keeping data private, opponents also argue animal ID programs favor larger producers because of the per-head costs for smaller livestock operations.

R-CALF isn’t the only group rallying the opposition. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center has also sent out e-mails asking producers to comment on a rule posted in the Federal Register by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that would require that only numbers beginning in the “840” prefix would be recognized for official use for animal identification number tags. The rule, which was posted in the Federal Register on Jan. 13, has more than 6,200 posted comments on the federal government Web site Regulations.gov. That compares to about 300 comments on USDA’s proposed rule on payment limits that USDA extended last month.

The animal ID comment period ended Monday. http://www.regulations.gov.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has not said whether USDA should move to make NAIS mandatory. Officials at USDA have said they believe the secretary has the authority to make the program mandatory under animal health laws.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who criticized the USDA animal ID in her 2006 campaign, also wrote a letter last week to Vilsack expressing concerns that USDA may make a rule to fully implement NAIS. McCaskill reiterated her opposition and stated that “under the current economic conditions, now is the wrong time to implement this rule.”

McCaskill cited a Kansas State University study that determined the per-head cost for a 100-head cattle producer would be more than twice the amount of a producer with 400 head.

“When you consider the costs of this program with the level of benefit received by the producer, the facts do not make the case for NAIS,” McCaskill wrote.

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com.

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