"The threat of a foreign animal disease outbreak is very real," says Bruce Knight, USDA Under Secretary for marketing and regulatory programs. "We need you involved to make the animal identification system effective and minimize the damage from an outbreak." He cites agri-terrorism as a possible catalyst for such an outbreak.

Knight was advocating the National Animal Identification System that USDA is trying to sell, mostly to farmers, who raise agricultural-based animals. "It's a voluntary program, and it will not go mandatory" say Knight. He added that he believes it would be unlikely that any public official would change the voluntary nature of the plan because of criticism from angry producers.

With regard to NAIS' confidentiality, Knight points out that state governments and private entities, not the federal government would maintain the program. He says USDA has built safeguards in the system to ensure that producer information is used only in declared emergencies.

He encourages all producers to take a few minutes to register their premises in NAIS. "Delays lead to losses in livestock, income, markets and labor," he says. "A viable animal identification system will reduce unnecessary losses and better ensure future business viability." The more producers enrolled in NAIS, the more likely the source of a disease outbreak could be traced within 24 hours. Premises registration is free and easy and requires little more information than needed to place an ad in a local phone directory.

Knight points to U.S. meat competitors-- Australia and Canada, who already have animal tracking systems in place. He also predicts that U.S. markets, including restaurants and retail outlets, will request more information from producers in the future. "We want U.S. producers to be competitive with the safest, most wholesome product," he says. 

According to USDA, 343,000 livestock premises--about a quarter of those nationwide-- have enrolled in USDA's program. The goal is to register most livestock premises by 2009.

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation, Meatingplace.com