Monday, February 08, 2010

USDA abandons plan for national animal ID system

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is abandoning plans to implement a nationwide animal tracking system. The plan would have developed a system to track livestock from "birth to the butcher shop," Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette notes. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement Friday, and by noon most of the references to the failed program had been removed from the agency's Web site.

The announcement was praised by ranchers wary of big government, Lutey reports. "It certainly means we have a USDA that is genuinely listening to the concerns of independent producers and is striking off in a new direction to achieve disease trace-back and prevention of communicable diseases," Bill Bullard, CEO of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, told Lutey.

Small producers said the system would threaten their businesses. A Kentucky group said at a USDA "listening session" in that state that the plan "would do nothing to improve animal health or food safety, but would annihilate family-scale farms, which are the majority of farms in Kentucky," said a news release from the Community Farm Alliance, which says it is "grassroots membership organization with over 2,000 members in 75 Kentucky counties." Groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association backed the plan because they felt "extensive identification would protect consumers and minimize livestock loss," Lutey writes.

"Vilsack said he will turn to state and tribal veterinarians for a uniform way to track animals shipped across the country," Lutey reports. "Tracking animals moving intrastate will be left up to each state government." USDA had spent over $142 million developing the program, which was criticized for possibly requiring so much cattle information to be reported to meatpackers that ranchers would have difficulty negotiating fair cattle prices and for the plan’s mandatory government inspection requirements. (Read more)

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