WASHINGTON, Aug. 9- The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a proposed rule today to establish regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock when animal disease events take place.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he believes the proposed rule will boost the currently low levels of official identification in the cattle sector and is encouraging public feedback with a 90 day comment period.

Under the new proposed rule, livestock moved interstate will have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates. This new Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system is mandatory upon implementation, unlike the previous voluntary program, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). 

“The system, in our view, puts us in a much better competitive circumstance than we are today,” Vilsack said. “Other countries that have traceability systems have been using that as a way of gaining market advantage. We believe this system basically takes that market advantage away.” 

Vilsack initially proposed a new system in Feb. 2010 to replace NAIS, which was established in 2004 by the Bush Administration. NAIS was implemented after a 2003 disease outbreak, during which the U.S. discovered its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease.

Vilsack said the new system is projected to cost approximately $14.5 million a year, and that he is optimistic Congress will approve these funds due the potential increased global market competitiveness and the costs saved by preventing long periods of disease tracing.

He said that disease tracing under the new system “will certainly not be 150 days or some of the rather lengthy processes that we’ve seen in the past” and that it is a significant improvement over the old system. 

The revised proposal, to be published in the Federal Register on Aug. 11, operates on four aspects: it applies only to animals moved interstate; it is administered by the States and Tribal Nations; it encourages the use of lower-cost technology; and it is implemented transparently through federal regulations and the full rulemaking process. 

“What is certain is that animal disease traceability will be required for animals moving interstate,” reads the ADT Comprehensive Report and Implementation Plan. “However, each State and Tribal Nation will be able to determine the specific approaches and solutions it wants to use to achieve the minimum animal disease traceability performance measures. Animals not moved out of State, as well as small producers who raise animals to feed themselves, their families, and their neighbors, are not a part of the framework’s scope and focus.”

USDA Chief Veterinarian, John Clifford, said that hot-iron branding will still be recognized under the rule, but must be agreed upon between states. This decision was reached, he said, based on the facts that only 14 states are branding states and that USDA would not require 36 states to adopt an identification system they did not need.

In a news release after the announcement, R-CALF USA announced its continued opposition to this and other aspects of the proposal, including the new identification recommendations for cattle under 18 months old. 

“The proposed rule not only spurns the U.S. livestock industries key recommendations regarding the hot-iron brand and younger cattle, but also, it snubs the critical recommendation by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s own Advisory Committee on Animal Health, which urged the Secretary to provide at least a 120-day public comment period for the proposed rule. Instead, Vilsack is only providing a 90-day public comment period,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

Other industry groups, including the National Farmers Union (NFU), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), praised USDA for its revision of the animal identification system.

“NFU policy supports USDA’s action to leave animal identification for disease management to the states,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We encourage USDA to move this rule through the full rulemaking and implementation process quickly.”

“There’s a lot of negative news floating around in this country and I think it’s high time we focus on the positive aspects that America does better than anybody else,” Vilsack said. “I think we can start with agriculture. Every billion dollars in agricultural sales generates 8,400 jobs in the economy. This one of the reasons one in 12 jobs is tied to agriculture in some way, shape or form.  One way we build on this success is by having a traceability system that works, that’s more flexible, more responsive to producers’ needs and that basically allows us to do a much better job than we’ve done in the past.”

To read the full proposal, go to http://www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/report_implementation_plan.pdf

Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Nov. 9. To submit comments use the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=APHIS-2009-0091.

Comments may also be sent to Docket No. APHIS-2009-0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.


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