The Denver Post

02/16/2010

Colorado farmers and ranchers are cheering a U.S. Department of Agriculture decision to back off plans for a controversial national animal identification system aimed at stemming livestock disease outbreaks.

Lee Swenson, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, which represents about 4,000 farmers and ranchers in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, said many of the union’s members feared the National Animal Identification System would add to government waste, while doing little to prevent disease and ensure food safety.

“We feel the tools are already in place on the state and local level to prevent an outbreak without creating another bureaucracy,” Swenson said. “Agriculture varies throughout the country, and this was simply a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Under NAIS, livestock owners would register for a premises identification number — PIN — and give basic contact information as well as what species of animals are on their property and the type of operation.

The system had been voluntary, but last year, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the ID program should be mandatory, sparking a vocal outcry among many farmers and ranchers.

ID advocates argued that the system could help stop potential disease outbreaks such as bovine tuberculosis or BSE disease.

But many operators said the ID program would force them to buy registration and tracking gear that could add up to $60 per head of cattle.

Some also complained that the ID program was unconstitutional because it amounted to an illegal “taking” of their personal property.

Vilsack last week said that a listening tour in 15 states — including Colorado — convinced him that the USDA needed to revamp its animal-tracking idea.

“I’ve decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal disease traceability with changes that respond directly to some of the feedback we heard.”

Specifically, Vilsack said, the USDA’s efforts will:

  • Only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce.
  • Be administered by the states and tribal nations to provide more flexibility.
  • Encourage the use of lower-cost technology.
  • Be implemented “transparently” through federal regulations and the full rulemaking process.

Swenson said he supports the notion of states taking a bigger role in disease prevention because many of those programs already exist in Colorado.

“Many farmers and ranchers are leery of any national database because they feel such a system could be compromised at any time,” Swenson said.

“The proper tools are already there, so let’s use them.”

Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907 or mwhaley@denverpost.com
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