Subsidies are usually the first thing mentioned in a discussion about farm legislation. Despite being one of the last things to come up, mandatory animal identification is no less contentious. The current farm bill contains both items but mandatory animal ID appears to have met its demise.
The program was born out of the 2003 discovery of a single case of mad cow disease in one Washington State animal. Lawmakers worked to create a program that would allow for rapid trace-back in the event of an animal disease outbreak. After years of backlash from farmers and ranchers, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put an end to the landmark national animal identification system– six years after it was proposed.
USDA's reverse-course on animal ID drew praise from the anti-tracking cattleman group R-CALF AND cautious optimism from the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
(Possible sync from Gourley's lead)
Vilsack claims the move is an outgrowth of listening sessions held across the country where livestock producers expressed concerns about the fledgling program. Complaints centered on the program's potential high cost, possibility of intrusion by government officials, and lack of disease control or prevention.
But the USDA decision may further confuse cattle producers by scrapping a national standard in lieu of a patchwork of state-controlled systems. The new animal tracing structure would only apply to livestock that cross state borders. USDA officials have promised cash-strapped state governments federal dollars will cover the tab.
The original animal ID system was the brain child of the Bush Administration USDA created in the wake of America's first case of mad cow disease discovered in December 2003. But a program designed to calm fears around the dinner table drew concern, condemnation, and occasional acceptance in various livestock circles.
Throughout his term, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns pushed the administration's plan to skeptical ranchers.
Sec. Mike Johanns, USDA: "I know there are some of you that don't think we need this program or that it's too intrusive. I assure you its necessary."
On Capitol Hill, farm bill discussions often pinpointed animal ID as a "waffling" government program with unfunded financial liabilities and questions over the future of mandatory enrollment for farmers and ranchers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro D-CT:
"Quite frankly, Mr. Secretary, there was not even a mention or a reference in the testimony about animal identification. Animal identification system: mandatory or voluntary?"
USDA Sec. Mike Johanns: "Currently voluntary but may become mandatory."
Rep. DeLauro: "So we don't know what direction we're going in?"
According to USDA, only 36 percent of farmers and ranchers participated in the more than $120 million program.