Identifying U.S. livestock to premises where animals are managed or held - such as ranches, feedlots, sales barns and packing plants - could start by late summer, Neil Hammerschmidt, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s animal-identification coordinator, told attendees at last week’s Animal Agriculture Alliance stakeholders summit, according to a report in Food Chemical News.

Hammerschmidt said USDA plans to start by making premises identification voluntary first, then move to a mandatory program. He noted, however, that there is not funding budgeted for animal ID in the current fiscal year, but the hope is to obtain $33 million from the Commodity Credit Corporation.

According to Food Chemical News, Hammerschmidt told the group that USDA wants to identify independent, third parties that can help implement the animal ID system. "We look forward to a government-industry partnership," he said.

Repeating assurances that USDA Under Secretary Bill Hawks voiced earlier this month, Hammerschmidt said a national animal-identification system should:

  • Be flexible enough to accommodate existing animal ID systems
  • Be technology neutral, so that a variety of old and new identification devices can be used
  • Build on the "excellent data standard" developed by the public/private U.S. Animal Identification Plan 
  • Allow producers to incorporate market incentives for participation
  • Avoid unduly increasing the role and size of government.

Hammerschmidt said the national system would build on knowledge and insights gained from previous pilot projects. "The USAIP is not a USDA program," he said. "It is being evaluated as a recommendation from industry.” He pointed specifically to the 48-hour traceback goal, which he said sounds simple, but is quite complicated.

USDA's tracking priorities for the system include point-of-origin ID; interstate movement of animals; termination (usually at slaughter plants); movement to markets/assembly points/feedlots; and intrastate movements of animals.

Asked how or if the animal-identification system could be integrated into country-of-origin labeling, he replied that USAIP developers want to keep the focus on animal health and avoid political debate.