The United States may need to consider mandatory farmer participation in a livestock traceback system, but insight must first be gathered from those who oppose animal identification, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“There is very serious dissatisfaction with the current system” among lawmakers who are convinced the voluntary process is not working as well as it should be, Vilsack said in an interview with Reuters. “What I'm hoping to do is get a system, whether it's voluntary or mandatory... that works.”  

He further explained, “It may very well be that you need a mandatory system, but in order for it to work you have to have people understand why you are doing it and understand that they have the opportunity to have their concerns voiced and listened to.”

Whatever path a national animal identification program takes, it must protect the country from market disruptions and homeland-security threats. It also must be supported by a majority of the people who are willing to comply with the system rather than find a way around it, Vilsack emphasized.

Previous USDA secretaries, such as Mike Johanns, were against the idea of government-imposed mandatory ID, saying it should be left up to market forces instead.

The current National Animal Identification System is intended to track any designated animal's housing premises and herd-mates within 48 hours of an animal-disease concern. Farmers are not currently obliged to participate in the program, which USDA implemented following the United States' first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2003.

Some lawmakers have questioned the program's effectiveness, which has consumed $128 million over five years to create a voluntary system.

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Source: Reuters