The USDA proposed changes to animal-disease-traceability requirements that would affect interstate livestock transport.
A recently proposed rule to the USDA’s animal-disease-traceability program has farmers and ranchers at odds as to whether it will actually aid in animal-disease prevention without hurting the nation’s small-scale farming operations.
The proposed rule requires that all livestock moved interstate, unless specifically exempted, be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation agreed upon by the states or tribes involved in the transfer. Livestock owners as well as veterinarians and other businesses associated with livestock would have to the keep traceability records for at least five years.
Livestock covered in the proposed rule are cattle and bison, horses and other equine species, poultry, sheep and goats, swine, and captive cervids. The proposal outlines official identification devices that would be required for each animal species’ traceability, such as ear tags for cattle or leg bands for chickens. The USDA is encouraging the use of low-tech identification devices in the proposal.
In his announcement of the proposed rule on Aug. 9, 2011, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the flexibility it would give states and tribes in determining forms of identification that meet their needs; however, not all farming organizations agree this would outweigh the burden of what they see as unnecessary record keeping.
“The large volume of animals that USDA proposed to track could overwhelm the capabilities of state agencies, making it impossible to retrieve useful data if there is, in fact, a disease outbreak,” says Gilles Stockton, a Montana rancher and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. Stockton commented as part of a statement released by the Cornucopia Institute, an organization advocating for family-sized farms.
It would also require tracking certain groups of livestock that weren’t formerly so, including animals being transported to butchering facilities and cattle less than 18 months of age.
“On the one hand, the agency points to diseases with long incubation periods, such as tuberculosis, to justify these extensive new record-keeping requirements,” says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance in the Cornucopia Institute statement. “But at the same time, the agency plans to require the same paperwork on feeder cattle, which are butchered between 1 and 2 years of age. So the majority of the records that the vets and auction barns will be storing will be on animals that died years before.”
According to the USDA, the biggest traceability burden will fall on cattle producers because of the industry’s gaps in traceability measures and standards. Certain cattle producers believe the rule will, in fact, restrict producers’ methods of traceability. The R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America, a national cattle-producer organization, is concerned for individual producers who prefer to iron-brand their cattle.
“Under the proposed rule, individual producers cannot choose on their own to continue using the hot-iron brand to identify their cattle. Nor can an individual state on its own choose to identify the cattle leaving their state with a hot-iron brand,” says George Chambers, the R-CALF USA president. “Only if two state governments mutually agree to use the now delisted hot-iron brand will that option be available to either U.S. cattle producers or individual states,”
But not all farming organizations believe the proposed rule will put a damper on farm operations.
“The ability to trace, track and quarantine livestock during a disease outbreak will help minimize the economic impact it will have on the agriculture industry and rural America,” says Robert Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. “The proposed rule … is a step in the right direction for animal-disease traceability. We recognize this will not prevent disease, but it does create a systematic approach to allow for swift response when there are issues.”
The USDA has made the proposed rule available for public comment until Nov. 9, 2011. To comment online, visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Send comments by mail 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.