USDA's National Animal Identification System provides an opportunity for U.S. livestock producers to become more competitive globally, industry leaders say. 

"We commend USDA for moving forward with a national identification system to support the safety and integrity of the U.S. food supply," says Jim Heinle, GAM president, a leading provider of animal and premises identification systems. GAM is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp.

By tracking animal movements, the proposed NAIS would allow officials to quickly identify potentially infected animals in case of a major disease outbreak. Heinle says there are value-added opportunities for livestock producers as well.  "It provides the potential for the industry to gather and manage information that will help maintain global markets and ensure consumer confidence in the food system." 

For example, livestock producers could choose to record additional data to verify the age, source and breed of their animals– even how the animals are raised and cared for. Producers can then share the information with buyers to the extent that it benefits the producers' business. Such information is becoming increasingly important to markets domestically and abroad. 

"Those with ability to provide value-added information will lead the food markets of the future," says Heinle. "At the same time, we must recognize the desire to protect producer privacy of this information."

Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, says the United States is at an important juncture. "Mandatory animal identification is both essential and an inevitable business reality if we are to be global players."

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a forum of producers, veterinarians, scientists and other livestock industry professionals, has formally endorsed USDA's efforts to implement a national animal-tracking system. NIAA officials recognize that the system can have benefits that go beyond livestock health.

"Producers have the opportunity to get on board with the flow of value-added information, while serving the needs of animal health officials for disease traceback," says Ben Richey, NIAA communications' director.

Although, as proposed, the NAIS does not become mandatory until January 2009, tools are in place now to allow livestock producers to capture the needed information. As a first step in the process, NAIS has already begun registering the farms and ranches or premises where animals are located. 

At last count, USDA had registered and assigned unique premises identification numbers to 74,340 locations nationwide.

"Although there are thousands of premises yet to be registered, good progress is being made," says Heinle. "We applaud USDA efforts to accelerate industry consensus on how NAIS will be implemented, and encourage all stakeholders to respond to USDA's request for comment on the system before the deadline, which has been extended to July 6."

According to USDA, it will follow the normal rulemaking process before any aspects of  NAIS become mandatory. The public will have the opportunity to submit additional comments on the proposed regulations. More information on NAIS is available on USDA's Web site at http://www.usda.gov/nais.

Additional information about GAM can be found at www.mygamonline.com.