Animal ID critics vocal in Missouri
June 10, 2009
JEFFERSON CITY, MO (DTN) – One pork producer testified in support of a mandatory National Animal Identification System at Tuesday’s USDA listening session and he was practically booed out of the venue.
That was the tone for what turned out to be USDA’s largest listening session on animal ID out of the eight meetings held thus far. Just under 250 people attended the event and the crowd appeared to overwhelmingly oppose the program or the thought of making animal ID mandatory.
Under the meeting’s parameters each speaker had three minutes, but many talked longer. About 50 speakers contributed to the morning’s comment period. In the afternoon, the 247 attendees divided up into smaller groups to give specific feedback to questions about how to improve the USDA program.
USDA officials and other supporters of the program say NAIS can be an important tool in the traceability of animal disease.
“Indeed, disease does not discriminate on the size of livestock operation,” NAIS staff veterinary David Morris said.
“Disease does not discriminate on the basis of international borders and our focus here for these listening sessions are truly for animal disease traceability purposes.”
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Rhonda Perry, who testified on behalf of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said the USDA should look at where the problems are if they are really concerned about consumer and animal health, instead of trying to solve a problem that she says doesn’t exist.
“We’ve seem millions of pounds of meat be recalled from processing plants,” she said. “That wasn’t the fault of independent producers.”
Perry, among other speakers, said the USDA allows imports from countries with known disease problems and doesn’t adequately inspect slaughterhouses and other processing plants. These problems contribute more to food contamination than livestock producers do, she said.
“We really believe we need to put our resources into maintaining and supporting disease control programs that have worked.” She thanked the USDA for holding the session and received a standing ovation.
Ken Fulson, from Wright County, MO, said NAIS creates liability and has long-term ramifications if packers or others are able to use the ID data to judge the quality of livestock.
“Long term, my cattle turn out to be very low quality and his [neighbor’s] turn out to be very good quality, these people are going to know that,” he said. “Next year, two years, three years down the road, because they can control the numbers with these [RFID] chips, they are going to pay Ron an average price for his cattle and discount mine because they’re not as good as his.”
Concerns about property rights and running a private enterprise collided with concerns about the cost to small producers. At least two people said they’ve already cut back or closed their business and many others said they might have to if NAIS became mandatory.
“One of the things we’re hearing at these session is people looking at the overall picture of animal agriculture in general,” said John Weimer, another NAIS veterinarian. “From our perspective at veterinary services is coming up with a tool that our epidemiologists can use to focus on tracing animal disease events, find where the animals came from, what other farms they are associated with, what other animals they were associated with. Part of this process is ferreting out the comments that focus on making that tool better.”
Missouri is now the number three beef-producing state behind Texas and Oklahoma. Speakers included two Missouri state senators who emphasized that Missouri’s law supports voluntary enrollment.
“Basically what this does is if the USDA implements a mandatory program they will be responsible for enforcement because the Missouri Department of Ag supports a voluntary program,” said state Sen. Chuck Purgason, who sponsored the law that passed in the summer of 2008. “And they cannot go mandatory unless they come to their elected officials and we pass legislation giving them statutory authority. This is what is meant by elected officials making decisions and not unelected bureaucrats.”
Missouri law also clearly states that if a producer wants to withdraw from the program, that producer’s information has to be erased completely. One woman from Arkansas testified that in order for her children to show their animals at a 4-H event, they had to register for NAIS. She later found out that she could not be removed from the program.
All of the comments at these listening session were video-recorded and transcribed and will be reviewed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s staff to determine the future of the program, Morris said.
“The USDA is indeed looking and listening for any of the opportunities that the producers and individuals that house or maintain or have livestock and poultry to see if indeed there are some workable solutions that they can bring forward that we can all benefit from,” Morris said. He said it’s too soon to speculate about the future direction of the program.