A dozen people representing a variety of interests came forward at the USDA listening session on a national animal ID program in Appleton, Wis. on Monday. Which is exactly what USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawks was hoping for. It is imperative that the department "go outside the beltway and visit with the people who will be affected by this program," he says.

The speakers reiterated significant support for a much-needed program, and they noted concerns about cost, data confidentiality, technology and other issues — including food safety. And several asked that the final program be mandatory, rather than retain its current voluntary status.

Hawks said these areas were of concern to USDA, as well, and were a common thread throughout all of the listening sessions held so far across the county. USDA officials insisted they are working to institute a program that will cause the least amount of disruption to markets and the ways producer currently manage their herds. But they do caution that there will be growing pains along the way.

As for the change to a mandatory system, Hawks hinted that is probably where the system is headed. But confidentiality remains a huge concern for producers, processors and USDA. Government attorneys say the data can be protected from Freedom of Information requests as long as it is gathered on a voluntary basis, but that protection is lost under a mandatory system. "And we’re committed to not going to a mandatory system until we can protect the data," vows Hawks.

Meanwhile, some funding has been issued for a number of animal ID pilot/implementation projects that are moving ahead, and additional monies have been requested in the next federal budget.

Individual species working groups are also fine-tuning their recommendations as animal ag gets closer to instituting a national ID program. The groups will report to the U.S. Animal Health Association in October, which will then be taken under advisement by USDA.

Dairy Herd Management