USDA has held 9 meetings across the country on the topic of “animal disease traceability.” At most, there were relatively small turnouts – perhaps 30-40 people at each, besides the USDA and state animal health authority bureaucrats.
This is NOT a sound basis for making decisions about the future of animal ID in our country.
A significant portion of the attendees represented large-scale industry groups. Just as they did in the 1990s and early 2000s, these groups are pushing for comprehensive electronic animal ID. Some are openly calling for a mandatory program that would impose requirements on every producer; others claim to favor voluntary programs, but their explanations make it clear that it would only be voluntary as long as it’s heading towards 100% participation.
The justifications for these expansive Animal ID programs have little to do with actual animal health, and far more to do with the export markets and industry profitability. The claim is that protecting and expanding export markets help “everyone in the industry” – when the reality is that the profits go to the meat packing companies, feedlots, and a few large producers, not small farmers and ranchers.
Rather, a NAIS-type program, with electronic (RFID) identification and intra-state requirements, would disproportionately burden small-scale and pasture-based producers, in the name of profits for meat packers and technology companies (See “More Information,” below).
It’s vital that USDA hear from farmers and ranchers who see a better path for both animal health and farm profitability than expensive requirements for the benefit of export markets.
Make your voice heard by submitting written comments!
TAKE ACTION: Submit Written Comments
The deadline for written comments is this Monday, July 31.
Comments can be submitted at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=APHIS-2017-0016-0001.
Sample comment and questions for producers:
Animal traceability is just one part of addressing animal disease in this country, and an even smaller part of promoting animal health. While it is useful to be able to trace diseased animals, it needs to be done in a way that does not impose unnecessary costs on producers or disadvantage those who are managing livestock on pasture.
I oppose any requirement for electronic ID because it will be disproportionately expensive and burdensome for small producers like me. The agency needs to continue to recognize traditional, low-tech forms of identification.
Moreover, the agency’s traceability program must be structured so as not to disadvantage those using low-tech forms of identification. For example, the numbering systems must include options that work well with low-tech forms of ID, and any changes to certificates of veterinary inspection must be workable with such approaches.
[Add any comments or experience you have with animal ID requirements. Have you been involved with a traceback? What would be the impact on you if young cattle (under 18 months) had to have individual identification? What would be the impact if electronic ID were required – how much would the cost of the tags and readers impact your profit margin? Does your vet use a laptop and have wireless access, or would he/she be adversely impacted by a requirement for electronic vet certificates? If you live in Michigan, which already requires electronic ID, what have been the impacts?]
Sample comment for consumers:
Extensive new Animal ID requirements could have significant impacts on our agricultural and food system.
I buy my food from small farmers who would be particularly hard hit by the cost and burdens associated with electronic ID. I do not want to see the farmers who provide food for my family and me burdened by requirements for the benefit of those who are exporting to other countries. A local food system is vital to our health, economy, and food security, and I urge USDA to prioritize the needs of small farmers.
NAIS history: http://farmandranchfreedom.org/category/animal-id/national-animal-identification-system/nais-history/
Why are we so concerned? The idea of a comprehensive animal ID program may sound good. But consider this:
- It’s too expensive. The profit margins for most livestock producers are tiny. A NAIS-type program means not only buying RFID tags (which are more expensive than the traditional metal or plastic ones), but having the infrastructure to properly place the tags, read the tags, and manage the data.
- It doesn’t address animal disease. Traceability is part of being able to control and limit the spread of disease – but it does nothing to actually address disease. The real focus needs to be on prevention. If the government and industry spent even a fraction of the time that they have spent on NAIS on addressing overcrowding in feedlots, poor nutrition and the overuse of drugs, and preventing imports from countries with outbreaks, we would have far healthier animals and less risk of disease in this country. But those things cost the industry money and limit their international markets, so they’d rather focus on tagging and tracking animals.
- It’s about money. The real reason the industry players want electronic ID and tracking is to boost their own profits. The first time around, it was about exports to South Korea and Japan – because, with a 100% traceability program, exporters have greater leverage to claim that countries must open their borders to our products. This time, they’re talking about exporting to China. Not to mention the profits to be had from selling tens of millions of electronic tags, or from managing the massive databases that would be part of the system. Multiple companies and trade organizations stand to make a lot of money from the program – at the expense of the vast majority of farmers and ranchers.
We don’t need every animal to have an electronic tag in its ear and its information entered in a database. What we need are programs that support independent producers, a vibrant competitive market, and healthy animal management to prevent disease. Unfortunately, it appears that we will have to fight this battle all over again, and we need your help to succeed!