Animal ID Update: USDA Plans to Propose New Rules

A year ago, USDA announced that it was dropping its plans for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), and that it would instead develop a new framework for tracking animals that move across state lines. At the same time, the USDA also announced that it would form a new “Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health.”

FARFA joined with a coalition of organizations to nominate a slate of producers to the Committee. When the Committee was finally named late last year, three of the coalition’s nominees were selected: Judith McGeary of FARFA, Gilles Stockton of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Genell Pridgen of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. Judith McGeary was named Vice-Chair of the Committee, and Dr. Don Hoenig (the State Vet of Maine) is the Chair.

The Committee, made up of a total of 20 people, met for the first time on January 20-21, 2011. At that meeting, the USDA officials stated that a proposed rule has already been written and is going through the administrative process prior to publication, which is expected to occur in April. Since the proposed rule is already written, changes at this stage are not likely, but USDA asked that the Committee identify any “show stoppers” with the framework.

The role of the Committee members is to represent “constituencies” of people and organizations who are affected by USDA’s animal health programs. Below is a list of key concerns about the new framework that we developed in cooperation with other organizations and submitted to the full Committee for discussion.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on March 4, 2011 by conference call. It is open to the public, and information on how to participate is posted on the Committee’s website at: www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/acah

The Committee website also includes all of the documents presented to the Committee, and will have a transcript of the first meeting when available. The USDA’s core documents explaining the new proposed framework for Animal ID are also posted on FARFA’s website:

  1. Summary of proposed requirements
  2. Powerpoint report to the Committee
  3. Tag information

After the proposed rule is published, there will be a public comment period. We will alert you to how you can access the proposed rule and make comments as soon as that information in available. Please be ready to speak up!

The USDA’s decision to withdraw the NAIS plan shows that the grassroots can be successful. We will need each of you to be involved to ensure that any new regulations do not create unfair burdens for the hundreds of thousands of small farmers, ranchers, and other animal owners across the country.

 

Statement of Concerns with “Animal Disease Traceability Framework”

Below is a list of key concerns with respect to USDA’s Animal Disease Traceability, Preliminary Comprehensive Report and Implementation Plan. Our constituencies are uneasy about providing input to the framework without having seen the text of the rule. They have pointed out that the actual text of the proposed rule could raise many additional issues that are not covered below. The issues noted below are intended only to reflect the major concerns with the general framework as we understand it.

 

1. USDA should provide a longer public comment period than currently planned, preferably a 6-month period.

Our constituencies feel strongly that we need an extended comment period on the proposed rule because of the number of people who will be affected by any animal traceability program. This is particularly critical given the widespread opposition to the earlier plans for NAIS and the distrust that many producers now have for USDA. Failure to provide sufficient time for animal owners to read the rule closely, understand its implications, and provide meaningful impact will guarantee that the plan will not be accepted and will ultimately fail. In addition, April and May (the currently planned 60-day comment period) are very busy times for many animal owners, due to calving, lambing and planting seasons across much of the country.

 

2. USDA should include a clear statement of the problem the agency seeks to solve.

Rather than generalized statements about the need for greater traceability, our constituencies want the agency to provide specific facts addressing:

a. the current status of traceability, including specifically what are the barriers to successful traces (i.e. are tracebacks failing because of lack of ID by producers? Failure of animal health officials or slaughterhouses to collect and record IDs? Inter-agency communications? Etc?)
b. what disease(s) the agency seeks to address
c. how the proposed rule will address the existing barriers so as to achieve the stated goal.

3. We oppose the inclusion of feeder cattle in the program.

Past traceability programs have been successful without including feeder cattle, and USDA has not identified a basis that justifies including feeder cattle in the new program. The burden of identifying feeder cattle threatens to harm both producers and sales barns, while also potentially swamping the system with more data than can be efficiently handled.

 

4. USDA’s proposal must address the impact of a realistic budget on implementation.

The framework does not address the details of how the proposal will be implemented using a realistic budget. Will the proposed funding be enough to support IT and data entry upgrades in all 50 states, as well as to provide low-cost or free tags to producers?

The budget questions impact any analysis of the merits of the proposal. For example, if the budget for implementing searchable databases in state agencies is limited, then it makes little sense for animal owners to be required to tag their animals and pay for CVIs when the agencies will be unable to handle the information generated. This also goes to the concern of trying to develop a program that addresses traceability for all diseases, as opposed to focusing our limited resources on known diseases.

 

5. The performance standards and tiers should not be applied so as to penalize producers and veterinarians.

The framework includes several performance standards that the states will be judged upon. Producers in states that fail to meet these standards may face increased burdens. Yet the reason(s) for the failure may have nothing to do with the producers. Rather, a state may fail to meet the performance standards due to lack of funding or barriers within the agency. It is inappropriate to place burdens on producers based on agency failures, but the framework is likely to lead to precisely that result.

Similarly, the framework’s emphasis on developing a database of CVIs threatens to impose burdens on large livestock veterinarians. If state agencies do not have the resources to input CVIs themselves, livestock vets could be faced with new requirements for electronic CVIs, which are unduly burdensome for many of them. Even the requirement for a CVI may impose burdens on producers because of the shortage of large livestock veterinarians in portions of the country.

 

6. We oppose delisting brands as an official identification device or method.

USDA has cited the reduced application of identification devices and methods as justification for the new animal disease traceback requirements. But creating new requirements while delisting the brand, which is a tried and proven official identification device, is unwarranted. Delisting brands as an official identification device or method is also likely to have unintended consequences, such as the defunding of state brand programs that serve critical roles in animal management.

 

Submitted by:

Judith McGeary
Genell Pridgen
Gilles Stockton