MFU KUFM Radio
Commentary May 31, 2011
By Sandy Courtnage
A year and a half ago we commented that the National Animal ID System proposed by USDA was an idea that needed to come to a halt. And, through the work of many dedicated groups and individuals, it did for some time.
You may recall that the Animal ID System was proposed to track all farm animals – all in the name of food safety.
Our problems with the proposal centered around reasons that even Secretary Vilsack conceded were relevant:
First, it is unworkable for small producers because of the level of detail required and the expense entailed.
Second, it does not make food safer or consumers safer.
And finally, it unfairly favors large corporate factory farms, at the expense of smaller, family farms and ranches.
Reports show that at all the listening sessions held across the country, consumers joined with farmers in letting the UDSA know that Animal ID is not a solution for animal health, food safety or food security. Many testified that USDA should focus its food safety efforts on “high risk situations, namely the factory farms,” that would be the major beneficiary of the ID program.
Now, 18 months after that last commentary, the ideas are being resurrected in a slightly different form. Soon the USDA will be issuing a new proposed animal traceability rule. What we know so far about the discussions come from a committee on animal health that USDA Secretary Vilsack created late last year. The committee’s influence has been limited because the proposal was already written and going through the agency approval process before the committee held its first meeting. Consequently, the committee was asked only to identify any ‘deal breakers’ in the proposed language.
The Committee outlined two recommendations and several key concerns:
First, the proposed rule should include concrete provisions to make sure it will not result in an unfunded mandate. The Committee recommended that there should be provisions to ensure that the rule is suspended if, at any point, there is insufficient funding especially for costs to states, individuals, veterinarians, and market facilities for any mandated practices and technology.
Second, USDA should include a clear statement of the problem the agency seeks to solve. Many people want specifics: rather than a general statement about the need for greater traceability, instead discuss current traceability and barriers that may exist to successful traces. For example, are tracebacks failing because of lack of ID by producers, failure of animal health officials or slaughter houses to collect and record, or inter-agency communication deficits.
Third, the proposal should explain how it will be implemented using a realistic budget. If the budget for implementing searchable databases in state agencies is limited, for example, then it makes little sense for animal owners to be required to tag all their animals and pay for scanners when agencies will be unable to handle the information generated.
Finally, we oppose delisting brands as an official identification device or method. USDA has said that the reduced use of identification devices and methods justifies new animal disease traceback requirements. But creating new requirements while delisting the brand, which is a tried and proven official identification method in Montana, is unwarranted and unnecessary. Further, delisting brands could have unintended consequences, such as defunding state brand programs that serve critical roles in animal management in the state.
Once again, this new Animal ID proposal is one that deserves continued and careful scrutiny.
For the Montana Farmers Union, I’m Sandy Courtnage. Thanks for listening.