Groups wants OMB to reject animal ID rule

A coalition of livestock and related groups is urging the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to reject the USDA animal identification rule. They have met with OMB officials and have written a letter outlining their concerns.

R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard tells Brownfield their main concern is that the USDA grossly underestimated the cost that this animal ID system will have on independent cattle producers.

Bullard says, “USDA claims the cost will be low. We’ve submitted studies that show the cost is likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Bullard says this rule brings producers to the doorway of the USDA’s former National Animal Identification System, or NAIS, which was tamped down by the outcry in rural America, “So they tried to scale it back,” says Bullard, “And they are now going forward with the initial steps of a full blown mandatory government program that is imposing the obligation on every independent producer to identify every head of animal that they have on their farms or ranches.”

He says  says the system is driven by the corporate ag lobby and export market potential at the cost of putting smaller producers out of business.  Bullard says they believe the USDA’s current traceability requirements in existing animal disease control programs are sufficient.

The comment period on the rule ended last December.  The White House budget review that is going on now is the final step before it would be enacted.

AUDIO: Bill Bullard (14:00 mp3)

Group urges comment on animal ID by Friday

A family farming group is urging producers to comment on the USDA’s proposal on mandatory animal identification this week. Friday, December 9th, is the deadline. Rhonda Perry, with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, says there are some positive changes from the former National Animal Identification System (N-A-I-S) proposal that so many farmers and ranchers were opposed to. Perry says, “While, they have made some improvements, certainly, it is not what we would want it to be and we still believe that it will have a negative impact on independent livestock farmers.”

The requirement for Premise ID is removed but others remain. Perry tells Brownfield, “They, at this point, are not including branding for example for as an official form of identification and that’s a problem for a number of cattle ranchers.”

And, Perry says, the new ID system is set up for an export market, adding, “That’s all fine and well but independent family farmers shouldn’t have to foot the tab for corporate agribusiness to export products. I think we need to maintain a voluntary system.”

Bottom line for Perry is they are opposed to any mandatory systems for producers that don’t address food safety issues on the other end, from the packers to consumers. She says producers are not the instigators of most food safety problems. By keeping it voluntary, she says, producers can comply if they wish for increased price and added value.

To comment on the Animal Disease Traceability proposed rule that was issued August 9th, go to aphis.usda.gov/traceability by December 9th, 2011.

AUDIO: Rhonda Perry, Program Director, Missouri Rural Crisis Center (4:00 mp3)

NPPC urges restoration of animal ID funding

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is urging Congress to restore funding for a national animal ID system.

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a fiscal 2011 ag funding bill that stripped out money for the USDA’s voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS). And the House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee has also “zeroed out” funding for the ID system. President Obama had requested $14.2 million for the program.

NPPC says the pork industry’s competitiveness and its exports are threatened by the failure of the U.S. to implement an animal ID plan. The group supports a mandatory national ID system and is asking lawmakers put back into the ag appropriations bill funding for NAIS.

Johanns criticizes new animal traceability plan

Some sharp criticism of USDA’s animal disease traceability plan coming from Nebraska U.S. Senator and former ag secretary Mike Johanns.  

“The so-called new animal ID is simply a mandatory system, from what I can tell,” Johanns says, “although it’s being promoted as a voluntary one.”

The USDA has announced that it is scrapping the National Animal ID system.  In its place, a new program that focuses on animal traceability, rather than animal ID, with states bearing more of the responsibility for decision-making.  USDA says the program will not be mandatory, except for animals moved in interstate commerce.  But Johanns says that provision means the program is mandatory, because so much of livestock now moves across the country.

“I would venture that the vast majority of animals in this country move from one state to another during their lifetime,” he says.

And Johanns says the states are rightfully concerned about having the new program, in his words, “dumped on them.”

“Looks like they’re going to be handed a hot potato of unfunded mandates, and a mandatory system that is not going to be supported in the country,” says Johanns.

USDA officials say it is not an unfunded mandate, that there will be federal funds to help develop and support the system.

AUDIO: Johanns’ comments in conference call with reporters (2 min MP3)

Link to video of Johanns’ Senate floor remarks

Pork delegates support animal disease traceability

At the recent National Pork Industry Forum in Kansas City, pork producers expressed concern about USDA’s decision to abandon efforts to establish a National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Pork Act delegates in sessionThe USDA announced in February that NAIS would be replaced by a new animal disease traceability network in which all states and tribes would develop their own traceability programs. Elk Creek, Nebraska pork producer Dennis Beethe, immediate past president of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, says it leaves Nebraska in a somewhat precarious position.

“With Nebraska being such a big packing state for beef and pork, we have a lot of pigs farrowed in the state, moved out and coming back for harvest purposes.  This could be a great detriment to our state, so this is a very important issue to us.”

The Nebraska delegation was successful in introducing and passing a resolution encouraging producers and states to continue to use nationally standardized premises ID numbers as part of animal ID methods and movement records. Beethe says having that consistency among states is important.

A separate resolution passed by NPPC delegates urges USDA to require all states to develop species specific systems within the new disease traceability network. It says each species group should be permitted to develop its own ID system and that USDA should permit species groups to have mandatory systems if producers within a group approve such a plan.

 Conversation with Dennis Beethe before vote

The National Swine Identification Plan has succeeded in registering more than 85 percent of swine premises in the U.S. Delegates urged its adoption to ensure compatibility and consistency among states.

Pork producers concerned with traceability

At the recent Pork Industry Forum in Kansas City, pork producers expressed concern about USDA’s decision to abandon efforts to establish a National Animal Identification System (NAIS). 

The USDA announced in February that NAIS would be replaced by a new animal disease traceability network in which all states and tribes would develop their own traceability programs.   Elk Creek, Nebraska pork producer Dennis Beethe, immediate past president of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, says it leaves Nebraska in a somewhat precarious position. 

“With Nebraska being such a packing state—with the beef and pork—we have a lot of pigs farrowed in the state, moved out and coming back for harvest purposes,” Beethe explains. “This could be a great detriment to our state—so this is a very important issue to us.” 

The Nebraska delegation was successful in introducing and gaining passage of a resolution encouraging producers and states to continue to use nationally standardized premises ID numbers as part of animal ID methods and movement records.  Beethe says having that consistency among states is important. 

“The consequences of this—without getting something in place that’s uniform around the states—could be a USDA quarantine of a state, which would paralyze our industry,” he says. 

A separate resolution passed by NPPC delegates urges USDA to require all states to develop species specific systems within the new disease traceability network.  It says each species group should be permitted to develop its own ID system and that USDA should permit species groups to have mandatory systems if producers within a group approve such a plan. 

The National Swine Identification Plan has succeeded in registering more than 85 percent of swine premises in the U.S.  Delegates urged its adoption to ensure compatibility and consistency among states. 

Brownfield’s Cyndi Young contributed to this story.

AUDIO: Dennis Beethe (1:30 MP3)

Illinois FB delegate session underway

Delegates to the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting in Chicago are in session going over policy recommendations that will guide the organization in the coming year. IFB Vice President Rich Guebert of Randolph County chairs the resolutions committee and says one of the issues expected to generate significant discussion deals with conceal and carry. Guebert says Illinois is one of two states that currently does not have a conceal and carry law.

“What it deals with is the opportunity for an individual, once he has the training and goes through the application process, he would be able to carry a weapon on the person,” said Guebert.

Another issue delegates will be debating is premises identification and then one of the final items of business before adjourning the annual meeting will be the election of officers and directors.

AUDIO: Rich Guebert, VP, Illinois Farm Bureau (7:30 MP3)

Lawsuit to stop NAIS dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit to halt the national animal ID program. 

In her decision, U.S. district judge Rosemary Collyer in Washington, D.C. wrote that the National Animal Identification System is neither a federal law nor a federal regulation.  She also points out that it is adopted by state agriculture departments on a voluntary basis.

The civil suit was filed by the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.  The legal group represents farmers and consumers who follow the sustainable agriculture movement.  The group’s president, Pete Kennedy, expressed disappointment with the ruling.  He says they still believe NAIS will drive many small farmers out of business.

Confidentiality is major NAIS concern

The 14th and final National Animal Identification System (NAIS) listening session was held just outside of Omaha Tuesday.  As with previous sessions, there was very little support for a mandatory program.

One of the major objections to NAIS is confidentiality.   Ken Pruismann of Rock Valley, Iowa, president of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, says it’s a big concern with his group’s members.

“Under a Freedom of Information Act request, USDA cannot guarantee that the animal ID database could be protected,” says Pruismann.

Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s organization, says his group supports having disease surveillance held and controlled by private industry, for the protection of producer information.

“Since disease surveillance is the reason for an animal ID system,” Kelsey says, “there is no reason for government to control the data or for producer information to be made available to companies, groups or individuals.”

Of the approximately two dozen people who offered comments at the Omaha listening session, only two spoke firmly in favor of mandatory national animal ID.  One of those was Bill Luckey, cattle and hog producer from Columbus, Nebraska.

“Until the animal identification is made mandatory and all premises are registered,” says Luckey, “it will never have the intended effects of improving the animal health infrastructure, and aiding in the control and eradication of highly contagious foreign and domestic animal diseases.”

Many speakers argued that current disease control and eradication programs are working well. Rancher and Grant County commissioner Dan Vinton of Whitman, Nebraska says a mandatory program is not wanted or needed in his area of western Nebraska.  He says the Grant County commissioners have even passed a resolution opposing mandatory animal ID.

“This onerous, expensive and ultimately ineffective program is not necessary,” says Vinton. “Please let the states and market-based solutions resolve this issue.”

Neil Hammerschmidt, a NAIS coordinator with the USDA, says Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack and his staff will now begin the arduous task of reviewing the listening session comments and discussing how best to proceed.

“There are certainly different perspectives on the program,” Hammerschmidt says, “As we look at the issue from a disease response capability, there is support from the majority of producers that, in fact, we want to protect our livestock and poultry from disease issues. The discussion maybe is, what is the best solution-what’s the appropriate solution.”           

Sampling of comments from the Omaha NAIS listening session (22 min MP3)

Neil Hammerschmidt (3 min MP3)

Omaha gets animal ID listening session

Omaha has been added as a site for a national animal ID listening session. 

The Nebraska session will be held at the LaVista Embassy Suites, just outside of Omaha, starting at 9 a.m. on June 30th.  It is the 14th-and as of this week-the final session of its kind being held across the United States. 

Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns and several Nebraska livestock groups have been pressing to have Omaha included in the list of listening sessions.