Congress this week adjourned for its summer recess and won't be back until September 7th. That leaves about seven weeks for re-election campaigning ... and attending political party conventions.
As lawmakers left town, they escaped some of the downbeat economic news announced this week. For starters, the Index of Leading Economic Indicators declined in June for the first time in 15 months. Housing starts last month sank to their lowest level in more than a year. And in his midyear outlook to Congress, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan virtually promised a "measured" increase in interest rates to stem inflation.
One thing Congress did address before skipping town was the issue of livestock traceability and the USDA's creation of a National Animal Identification System.
A hearing also was held before the House Agriculture Livestock subcommittee.
John Clifford, USDA/APHIS: "ID is one component that is part of an overall infrastructure that is needed. And the better that system is, it sure helps any system, and it will help you in that eradication effort. But it's not the only component of any eradication system."
Though there has been general acceptance of an animal ID program, producer groups have raised some concerns.
Jim Akers, Southeastern Livestock Network, LLC: "It is our concern that if we expend our efforts to create a completely watertight, perfect system on paper and march out of Washington with it, that everyone's going to run from it, nobodies gonna use it and those that do will not provide wholly accurate information to that system because of their concerns."
Jodi Luttropp, Holstein Association USA: "We feel that government can pay for the system development, the databases, the readers, and the producers are willing to cost share on the tags."
The Iowa Farm Bureau has expressed concern about unintended uses of the database and the amount of liability from the actions of others after the animal is out of a farmer's control.
The USDA already has made it clear that access to information in the database will be restricted, one technology will not be chosen over any other, and the overall system will go through refinements as problems are identified.
The priority for registration has been given to cattle though all commodity livestock are eligible.
To get the fledgling program started, $18 million has been allocated and an additional $33 million is expected to be made available in 2005. So far, registration is only voluntary but this hearing was the first indication the program might become mandatory in the future.