(Thanks to our friends at Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance)
Having dropped plans for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is back again for Round Two. The agency has proposed a rule that would require livestock producers, related businesses, and state livestock agencies to incur significant expense tracking animals that cross state lines.
Though less sweeping than the NAIS, the proposed animal traceability rule is still a solution in search of a problem. The USDA has again failed to identify the specific problem or disease of concern, and the real focus of the program is helping the export market. While the program will benefit a handful of large corporations, the costs and burdens will fall on producers, vets, sale barns and weigh stations, and the states. These new regulations will harm rural businesses while wasting taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on the real problems we face in controlling animal disease, food security, and food safety.
Some of the specific requirements for cattle pose particular problems. Along with new identification requirements imposed on all breeding-age cattle, the proposed rule would require identification and paperwork on non-breeding feeder cattle, despite the lack of evidence that such requirements will help disease control. The proposed rule provides for a temporary exemption for cattle headed to slaughter, but then phases these animals into the program except for personal use only. In addition, anyone issuing official ID tags will have to keep records of the tags for five years, and sale barns will have to keep copies of paperwork for five years, even though many of these cattle will have been consumed years earlier.
State agencies will have to build database storage, management, and retrieval systems in order to handle all of the data, creating problems for many states’ budgets. The proposed rule doesn’t address what the consequences will be if states’ systems don’t meet the federal government’s goals. The sending and receiving states can agree to use alternative identification methods, such as brands and tattoos, but otherwise the brand and tattoo will no longer qualify as an official identification method.
Small-scale, pastured, and backyard poultry will be particularly hard hit by the proposed rule. While the large confinement operations will be able to use “group identification,” the definition of the term does not cover most independent operations. Since thousands of people order baby chicks from hatcheries in other states, these birds cross state lines the first day of their lives. Even if the farmer or backyard owner never takes the bird across state lines again, they will have to use individually sealed and numbered leg bands on each chicken, turkey, goose, or duck to comply with the language of the proposed rule.
Under the proposed rule, horses will have to be identified when they cross state lines. Official identification includes a physical description, digital photograph, or electronic identification. Although most, if not all, horses shipped across state lines are already identified in one of these ways, the language of the proposed rule creates a new complication. Whether or not a physical description is sufficient identification will be determined by the health officials in the receiving state, leaving vets and horse owners struggling with significant uncertainty as they attempt to anticipate what will be required.
The draft rule also covers sheep, goats, and hogs that cross state lines, essentially federalizing the existing programs which have been adopted state-by-state until now.
The proposed rule is fundamentally flawed because it is not designed to address the real problems we face, and it imposes burdens on independent producers for the benefit of Big Agribusiness’s export markets. At a time when farmers and ranchers are facing significant economic problems, the last thing we need is additional burdensome rules hindering the economic viability of small rural businesses.
ACTION ITEM You can submit comments either online or by mail:
Online: www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=APHIS-2009-0091-0001 By Mail: Docket No.APHIS–2009–0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A–03.8, 4700 River Road Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737–1238
Please also send a copy of your comments to your Congressman and Senators. If you don’t know who represents you, you can find out at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
Here are talking points you can use for your comments:
1) The agency should withdraw the proposed rule.
2) If the export market would benefit from the proposed rule, as the agency claims, then the agribusinesses that export meat should pay the costs and offer economic premiums to livestock producers to encourage them to participate in a voluntary system.
3) The agency needs to identify the specific diseases of concern and analyze how to best address those diseases, rather than continuing to push a one-size-fits-all generalized tracking program.
4) The agency’s analysis does not address the full costs of the program, and this is a waste of money at a time when both private and government resources are already stretched thin. This is an unfunded mandate on both state governments and private businesses.
5) At the very least, significant changes need to be made:
• Apply the requirements to breeding-age cattle only and exempt feeder cattle from all new requirements.
• Exempt all direct-to-slaughter cattle, both for custom and for retail sales. (The proposed rule provides for a temporary exemption, but then phases these animals into the program except for personal use only.)
• Recognize the brand as “official identification” among and between all states that currently have official state brand programs and “official supplementary identification” for all other states.
• Do not impose any new requirement for identifying poultry. There has simply been nos howing that imposing new requirements on small-scale poultry operations is needed, and the new requirements will cause significant harm to small farmers.
• Provide that a physical description qualifies as an official identification method for horses without having to be approved by the health officials in the receiving State or Tribe.
DEADLINE: The deadline for comments is Friday, December 9. The deadline was originally 30 days earlier, but FARFA led a group of 49 organizations in urging Secretary Vilsack to extend the comment period, and he agreed.