USDA Secretary Ann Veneman, last week, listed a national animal identification program as a major USDA policy priority for mad cow disease prevention.

USDA has worked with federal and state governments, and with the food-animal industry for the past 18 months toward the adoption of a verifiable nationwide animal identification system, says Veneman. The point is to help enhance the speed and accuracy of the United States’ response to disease outbreaks across many different animal species. "I have asked USDA's Chief Information Officer to expedite the development of the technology architecture to implement this (identification) system as a top priority," she adds. 

"We welcome the heightened priority that the Administration is placing on a national identification system," says Glenn Slack, president of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture. NIAA has hosted a public/private development team that unveiled a draft "U.S. Animal Identification Plan” last fall. Team members include representatives of industry, states and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

"We'll do all we can to assist in speeding it up,” says Slack. However, there are things that have to be done before you can fully implement the plan. It's imperative that premises ID is in place first."

Implementation of USAIP is scheduled to occur in three phases:

  • Phase I, involves premises identification, and is set to begin by July. This phase would require establishing standardized premises identification numbers for all U.S. production operations, markets, assembly points, exhibitions and processing plants.
  • Phase II, would enable individual animal or group/lot identification for interstate and intrastate commerce.
  • Phase III, involves retrofitting remaining processing plants and markets and other industry segments with appropriate technology to enhance traceability of animals throughout the livestock marketing system.

If the Bush Administration gives priority to the USAIP, bureaucratic obstacles will be fewer, Slack predicts. "The other big question is money. Who's going to pay for it? Secretary Veneman says this is needed to protect public health. It's logical that tax dollars be spent to set up a world class system," he contends.

The issue of mandatory versus voluntary participation in the USAIP has not been resolved. According to Slack, mandatory participation might be delayed for one or more years until everyone is comfortable with the system and USDA could enforce it.

"Industry is saying it has to mandatory in order to work," he notes. "I've been surprised by the number of entities calling for mandatory (ID)."

The draft USAIP was presented to the October meeting of the U.S. Animal Health Association, which gave the plan its tentative blessing. The draft remains open for comment by stakeholders until Jan. 31, and beyond if necessary.

NIAA has scheduled a national animal identification symposium for May 18 to 20 in Chicago where it will discuss more refined details of the plan.

Additional pressure is coming from Congress to move up the USAIP timetable. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is seeking to revive interest in the mandatory traceability legislation he introduced last June.

Industry trade associations have lined up in support of a national identification plan. The American Meat Institute says the plan "will dramatically enhance animal-disease investigations. AMI has a policy in place supporting mandatory animal traceability.

Terry Stokes, CEO of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, says "The (ID) program will cost, but it will pay in the long run." 

The National Milk Producers Federation said it has "long supported a mandatory, comprehensive animal ID program for livestock of all ages."

The National Pork Producers Council, has long supported and actively participated in a national animal identification system.

National Pork Producers Council, Food Chemical News