Last fall, we alerted you to a proposed rule from the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) that would have required require official identification on a wide range of cattle sold at sale barns. The agency has withdrawn that proposal, and is now proposing a new rule that would require official identification whenever a cow is sold, whether through a sale barn or private treaty, if the cow is parturient (within 2 weeks of giving birth), post parturient, or 18 months of age and older except steers and spayed heifers.
The stated rationale for the rule is that, for many years, breeding cattle were identified when they were tested for brucellosis. The agency halted brucellosis testing at sale barns last August due to a cut in federal funding for the program. As a result, many cattle that would have been identified when they were tested are not being tested or identified, and the agency is concerned about its ability to track cattle.
The TAHC claims that it is authorized to require tagging under several statutes. Yet all of these statutes address measures to control disease, such as through testing or quarantine. None of the statutes authorize the agency to require identification by itself, separate from a disease control measure. This lack of statutory authority reflects a fundamental principle: requiring tagging is not a proper substitute for real disease control measures.
The proposed rule is premised on the assumption that the official identification tags will be paid for by the USDA. Yet, the very reason the agency is proposing this rule is because it has stopped testing for brucellosis because of lack of federal funding. And as even the agency acknowledges, tagging carries costs beyond the cost of the tag itself. The agency has failed to do a cost-benefit analysis of the costs that will be imposed on cattle owners or our limited state budget to implement this proposed rule.
Looking at the details of the proposed rule, it will require cattle over 18 months of age to be officially identified even if they are going directly to slaughter. Requiring identification of animals that are being sold simply to go to slaughter imposes unnecessary costs and does absolutely nothing to improve traceability or control disease.
Comments are due by April 7, 2012. You can submit your comments in any of the following ways:
MAIL: Carol Pivonka, TAHC, 2105 Kramer Ln., Austin, TX 78758
FAX: (512) 719-0721
Below are sample comments. Please take a few minutes to personalize at least the first couple of sentences, to increase your impact.
Dear Ms. Pivonka,
I am a _____________ (small-scale cattle owner, patron of my local sale barn, supporter of my local farms, etc.). I am concerned about the agency’s proposed rule for tagging cattle under Chapter 35.
The agency assumes that the tags will be provided by the USDA at no cost, yet the federal agency has not finalized its own rule for animal ID and the funding is in doubt. It is inappropriate to adopt a rule based on the assumption that the cost will be covered by the government, yet continue to impose its requirements if that assumption proves false. The agency has also failed to address the costs to the State of implementing the proposed rule, from recordkeeping to enforcement.
Even if the tags are provided by USDA, there will still be costs in time and labor. The agency should not impose these costs when someone sells cattle that will be going directly to slaughter. There is no benefit to tagging an animal that is going to be slaughtered shortly, creating unnecessary and pointless costs for the owners.
Ultimately, tagging will not prevent disease. I urge you to reconsider the proposed rule. At a minimum, the rule should include a provision that suspends its requirements if government funding is not available and should exclude animals being sold to go to slaughter.