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USDA may lack mandatory ID authority

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Feb 13, 2005
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USDA may lack mandatory ID authority

by Jerry Hagstrom - Though Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has been enthusiastically promoting the development of a privately-held national identification system for all livestock animals, Agriculture Department lawyers have not determined whether USDA has the legal authority to institute a mandatory system operated by private entities, a key USDA officials said.
USDA officials maintain that the Animal Health Protection Act, which was passed as part of the 2002 farm bill, gives USDA authority to develop a national animal identification system, but Neil Hammerschmidt, the coordinator of the proposed National Animal Identification System at the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, said at a meeting of the Ranchers-Farmers Action Legal Fund-United Stockgrowers of America that the agency's lawyers have not determined whether that authority extends to requiring ranchers and other owners of livestock animals and make reports to a private entity.
USDA officials are working on the assumption that the program would be self-policing rather than require inspection and enforcement of USDA employees, Hammerschmidt said.
The pressure to create a better system for tracing the source of animal disease has grown since December 2003 when a cow in Washington state tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease and other countries closed their borders to U.S. beef. Government and industry officials believe the identification system would make it possible to trace the source of animal disease within 48 hours and would reassure trading partners.
Livestock groups initially expected the government to pay for the system, but on Aug. 30 Johanns announced he wanted to set up a private system which the federal and state governments could access at no cost. APHIS deputy administrator John Clifford has also said USDA does not expect to analyze the cost to producers because the system would be private.
At the R-CALF USA meeting, Athol Economou, a director of the Australian Beef Association, said that the Australian animal identification system had resulted in substantial costs to ranchers. Economou said the system appears to be only partially effective. Packers and processors are supposed to send reports to ranchers on the disposition of all animals born on their ranches, he said, but ranchers receive reports on only about 50% of the animals.
R-CALF USA passed a resolution in opposition to a mandatory animal identification program, saying that most cattle diseases are foreign and that it would be easier and cheaper to keep out diseases with tougher border security.

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