APHIS holds meetings to gain input on animal identification plan
May 1, 2017
At least one ag group says the U.S. Department of Agriclture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's nationwide discussions on animal identification go against the president's regulation-slashing objective.
The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association told its members that there are signs of the agency pushing intrastate — not just interstate — identification requirements and also electronic identification requirements of cattle and other livestock.
In an early April letter to USDA, the Stockgrowers, R-CALF USA, The Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the Western Organization of Resource Councils said USDA's road tour will be a waste of time and waste of tax dollars, and runs contrary to the presidential directive that agencies reduce both their own expenses and the regulatory burden they impose on U.S. industries.
But USDA APHIS presses on. The agency is just shy of half way through its public meetings on "Animal Disease Traceability" (ADT) or in layman's terms, animal identification.
“The export market only benefits a few industrial producers, not the average rancher, and there are many untapped markets for grass-fed livestock and small cooperatives which already have traceability because of their systems and customer relations.”
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USDA issued the ADT rule in 2012 following a long and heated debate about animal identification. The original National Animal Identification System was strongly opposed by a number of industry groups including R-CALF USA, the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association and others.
Prior to 2012, sexually intact (breeding) cattle and bison 24 months of age and younger were required to bear individual identification if moving interstate. With implementation of ADT, that age was lowered to 18 months of age. USDA estimated this would add 20 million head of cattle to those already being tracked.
Now under "phase two," USDA seeks input on their ultimate goal: to track all cattle including feeder cattle that move interstate. The Stockgrowers fear that USDA's underlying goal is to eventually require electronic identification for both interstate and intrastate movement of livestock.
"The industry supports the need to have complete and successful disease tracing and wants to phase in feeder cattle when the program has a solid, functional base," the 2011 USDA ADT plan stated.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supported the original NAIS plans — first a mandatory program, then later a voluntary one — that eventually were discarded and replaced with the ADT plan.
Errol Rice, the Montana Stockgrowers Association executive director said he will represent his organization at the Billings meeting in May.
BEING AT THE TABLE
His group believes they need to stay engaged with the USDA discussion, he said. While his organization hopes for a voluntary approach, the bigger concern is developing a system that works. They hope to build on private sector progams already in place.
"The whole mandatory-voluntary debate we kind of feel like that's under the bridge. We'd prefer voluntary but we'll take it a step further and discuss what we want it to look like. We want to be at the table to figure out what this needs to look like," he said. "It's complicated. If it was easier, we'd have figured it out a long time ago. The industry is going to have to come to the table and work with USDA to see what this should look like for the feeder cattle component."
In the 2011 ADT plan, USDA had this to say:
Overall, we want stakeholders to help us find and use the traceability approaches that work best for them. These approaches:
• will apply only to animals moving interstate;
• will be owned, led, and administered by the states and tribal nations, with federal support focused entirely on disease traceability; and
• will ensure animal disease traceability data is owned and maintained at the discretion of the states and tribal nations.
United States Cattlemen Association Policy and Communications Coordinator Lia Biondo attended the second of the 2017 meetings, in Riverdale, Md.
She said the day-long meeting included a lot of review of the current system — the utilization of bangs tags and tattoos to track the movement of female cattle across state lines.
"The consensus in the room was that if USDA is going to move this program forward, we need it to work and we need it to work the first time," Biondo said. There was a lot of discussion from livestock market owners about the challenges of having both high- and-low frequency readers and tags, she said.
"The technology needs to be more cost effective; vendors that will see this demand will produce tags to fit the need," she said.
"I think the key take-home message is that there is a technology gap for advancing more modernized animal ID, and that cost effectiveness needs to be considered," she said, recalling the comments made during the meeting.
"USDA APHIS needs to identify and address weaknesses in the current system," USCA spokesperson Jess Peterson said.
"We can't do a one-size fits-all approach. USDA APHIS is reaching out to producers to gather their input on next steps and I encourage folks to attend these meetings and relay what works and what doesn't on their own operation."
Peterson said animal ID is an everyday part of ranchers' lives.
"We utilize traceability every day, from branding calves to pairing out cattle to put on summer grass. This all leads up to the fall roundup and gather, during which brand inspection and shipping takes place. We need to build on these successes and find ways to address any perceived gaps on the movement of cattle between state lines."
Peterson believes the current administration is focused on working with producers in a reasonable manner. "I don't see this White House pushing an aggressive animal ID agenda. There continues to be a very open-door policy for producers at USDA on this issue."
Oklahoman Kathy Moore believed there was an effort by USDA officials to promote additional animal ID at the April 11, 2017, Oklahoma City, Okla., meeting. Moore, who formerly raised bison and cattle and marketed meat said she maintains individual identification on all of her animals but she doesn't believe the government should require it.
She said the underlying tone of the meeting seemed to be that U.S. producers should adopt additional animal ID requirements in an effort to gain access to China's market.
Moore said most commenters, spoke in favor of a mandatory system and uniform equipment.
She said some attendees commented that the "country traders" as they called small cattle owners are the source of disease problems and that if they refused to comply and were forced out of business, that the industry would be better for it.
Moore believed she was the only "independent producer" who commented publicly. She commented that the fickle export market is not reason enough to implement a new and more expensive and labor-intensive identification program, but that local demand could be built with no expensive identification needed. Several who testified in support of mandatory identification claimed membership to Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association, NCBA and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, she said.
"The export market only benefits a few industrial producers, not the average rancher, and there are many untapped markets for grass-fed livestock and small cooperatives which already have traceability because of their systems and customer relations," Moore said during her testimony. "For such producers, RFID isn't economical or appropriate, and a NAIS-type system would be too expensive from a paperwork, equipment and labor perspective." Moore pointed out that it may be suitable to have a "tiered" system so that the producers who want to export beef could opt into RFID, while independent ranchers would be exempt.
One livestock market owner expressed concern that older producers could be driven out of business under a mandatory program.
At the Oklahoma meeting, one USDA official repeatedly reminded everyone that the purpose of the meeting was to identify gaps and obtain input or help from the industry related to Phase I only. His reminders appeared to ignored, Moore said.
MAKE SURE YOU ARE HEARD
She urges producers to attend meetings and submit comments in order to be sure their voices are heard.
The South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, after first signing on to a group letter asking the agency to put a halt to the 2017 meetings that they called a waste of tax dollars, now urges its members to ask for a comment deadline extension.
The Stockgrowers urge their members to ask for an extension to July 31 because of the busy spring season and short notice of the comment period and meetings.
The group's executive director Silvia Christen said USDA documents indicate that "the underlying agenda is to begin pushing intrastate requirements and electronic forms of identification again — in other words, a NAIS-type system."
Christen said her members don't support mandatory identification of cattle for several reasons. "It's too expensive, it doesn't address animal disease and it's about money," she said in a member alert.
"The real focus needs to be on prevention," she said.
Her group urges producers to attend a meeting if possible, but also to submit comments.
— Reach Stadheim at email@example.com.