But the biggest customer, Japan, remains skeptical, and wants clarifications from USDA before resuming negotiations on ending its beef ban.
One of Japan's concerns is traceability in case of future outbreaks. To that end, Congress this week took steps toward a livestock identification system that, at least initially, provided more questions than answers.
Bill Hawks, USDA: "Plans to move forward with implementation of a national animal identification system in 2004. First, on a voluntary basis and, eventually, with a requirement for premises and individual animal identification for all animals."
Hawks further stated there is no "one size fits all technology", that it's critical to get industry support, and that public and private funding both would be necessary to make the plan a reality.
Industry groups weighed in, as well.
Joy Philippi, National Pork Producers Council: "The pork industry considers a national animal ID system part of protecting the nations critical food and agriculture infrastructure."
Mike John, National Cattlemen's Beef Association: "Animal identification is a tool that can be used in conjunction with our animal health infrastructure to identify and isolate animals and premises that have been associated with animal disease. It is not a substitute for this infrastructure. NCBA will oppose efforts to pay for an animal identification system by cutting existing animal health infrastructure."
Their concerns covered a few common themes:
-What kind of identification system would be used for each type of animal
-who will have access to the collected data
-who will pay for the cost of data collection and the required I.D. tags
-and there must be built in flexibility to accommodate new technology and data collection methods.
The witnesses were quick to point out some of the work already may be done. A system of sorts exists through disease prevention programs used by the pork and sheep industries.
Though the details have yet to be hammered out, the USDA appears to be in agreement with industry. The program is currently scheduled to begin in late 2004 with the issuing of identification numbers for farms and ranches. In late 2005, some kind of ID system will be implemented for individual animals. Currently, no money has been allocated for a national animal identification program but officials hope some emergency funds may be available. Estimates place the annual cost of the program at $120 million.