In the wake of America’s only confirmed case of mad cow disease in December of 2003, it became clear the ability to trace the origin of ANY animal in the U.S. was elusive at best. To that end, USDA began formulating a method that would allow for quick response in the event of a disease outbreak. Several mandatory plans were proposed but all met with some kind of opposition.
This week, in another attempt to provide more emergency response tools for state, local and federal authorities, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack proposed yet another tracking system. His version would REQUIRE farmers and ranchers to implement some method of identifying their animals when moving from state to state. According to Secretary Vilsack, appropriate paperwork methods would include veterinary inspection certificates, brand certificates or owner-shipper statements. Animals could be identified using some kind of ID like metal ear tags for cattle.
Vilsack says the new system would reduce the time required to find the source of a disease outbreak from months to a few days or a few weeks at most. Under the current system, USDA agents took nearly three months to trace the source of a recent Bovine Tuberculosis outbreak.
The proposed rule is another attempt to install a nationwide emergency response system when animal diseases are discovered. The first effort began in 2004, when mad cow disease was confirmed in a single cow that had been imported from Canada into Washington State. USDA officials began work on a mandatory system for tracing diseased animals back to the source. But, after a great deal of wrangling, a VOLUNTARY system was implemented the same year. According to USDA records, only 36 percent of farmers and ranchers had signed up for the program by 2009.
So far, the proposed rule has received mixed reviews. The National Pork Producers Council likes the program stating it would allow U.S. pork to compete more effectively in the international market place.
And the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is supportive of a disease traceability program and commended APHIS for listening to concerns of voiced by America’s cattle producers. But NCBA is waiting to review the proposal before endorsing or rejecting the new rule.
Farmers and ranchers have 90-days to submit their comments on the proposed interstate traceability rule.