The National Pork Producers Council on Wednesday urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to back a mandatory National Animal Identification System. NPPC cited increased vulnerability to foreign animal disease as the reason to push for making the program mandatory.

The U.S. swine industry has long supported mandatory NAIS for all relevant species of animal agriculture. Over the past three years, NPPC and the National Pork Board have worked with USDA to implement a swine ID system and have registered more than 80 percent of the approximately 67,300 swine premises.

The animal ID system would be used to help animal health officials trace diseased or exposed animals to their farm of origin within 48 hours. In the case of a disease outbreak, NAIS would make control and eradication of disease easier. The key component of such a system is registration of premises, which requires the collection of publicly available data, including the physical location of an operation, telephone number and contact information.

In the letter to Vilsack, NPPC noted that USDA has struggled since 2004 to implement a viable NAIS that serves the needs of animal agriculture. It pointed out several obstacles to past USDA efforts to establish an animal ID system including indecision in the department over whether it should be mandatory or voluntary. Other issues that have hampered the efforts in the past include inadequate funding and objection by extremist groups.

“The U.S. livestock industry is increasingly vulnerable to foreign animal disease because of the potential spread through increased international travel and trade,” said NPPC in its letter to Vilsack. “Even more frightening is the threat of deliberate introduction of disease by terrorists.”

“The NAIS is critical to protecting our national swine herd and, thus, our domestic and international markets,” said NPPC president Bryan Black, a pork producer from Canal Winchester, Ohio. “Without such a system, the increased cost to USDA and animal agriculture in the event of a foreign animal disease will be staggering.”

In 2008, U.S. pork exports totaled nearly $5 billion. If the United States’ trading partners closed their markets to U.S. meat exports, the country’s pork industry alone would lose billions of dollars, according to NPPC.

Source: National Pork Producers Council