|State vet pitches
voluntary animal ID program
(Note: It is correct that Maine's state vet is trying to sell the premise of "voluntary" animal ID. "Voluntary" is the camel's nose under the tent. Please let Don Hoenig, VMD know how you feel about the mark of the beast: email@example.com, 207-287-7615. Nowhere in his job description does it mention involvement in the taking of property rights: "The State Veterinarian is responsible for animal, poultry and aquatic health. He oversees certification and testing programs to ensure compliance with interstate and international requirements for the exportation of animals, and he assists dairymen in upgrading production techniques to improve milk quality. He works to prevent the introduction and spread of contagious, infectious, and parasitic disease among poultry and livestock, especially those diseases transmitted to humans, directly or indirectly. Our veterinarian visits the agricultural fairs which showcase Maine's finest livestock. He ensures compliance of health regulations, and monitors for the presence of disease and the use of illegal drugs in pulling events." Source: http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/ahi/vet.htm This website http://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/dawson/brands/brand.htm indicates 41 states with brand laws, which is an accepted, already in place and effective means of identifying animals -- without giving up property rights. See below the article for a list of hyperlinks to state brand laws.)
107 Church Street
Belfast, Maine 04915
To submit a Letter to the Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Belfast, Maine - While livestock producers remain concerned about the potential cost and invasiveness of a farm animal identification program in Maine, the level of anger and fear appears to be declining.
In part, that's because both the state and the federal government have backed away from plans to require every farm to identify and track every farm animal.
State and federal officials now say the effort will be completely voluntary and will focus on voluntary "premises registration," creating a national database of places where livestock and poultry are raised. The effort is directed solely at farm animals; pets are not included.
In addition to scaling back plans for the program, Maine has embarked on an effort to better explain to farmers and the public why an improved tracking system is needed. Thursday night at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, state veterinarian Don Hoenig met with about 13 producers from Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties to discuss the program and get some feedback.
"We need a better system of animal identification in this country to help out in the event of an animal disease outbreak," said Hoenig. ". It would help us to quickly find out when and where infected, or potentially exposed, animals have moved."
Agriculture remains an important part of the Maine economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the state has about 4,150 farms that raise livestock or poultry. Gross sales of animal products were estimated at $293 million in 2005.
In the event of a disease outbreak, others states would almost certainly embargo the import of animal products from Maine -- a severe financial blow to producers.
"We have to do a better job [of preparing for potential animal disease outbreaks]," said Hoenig. "Half of our milk, if not more, goes out of state . [and] Maine produces more brown eggs than any other state in the country."
That said, Hoenig was sharply critical of federal efforts to propose and promote improvements to the nation's animal identification system.
"The National Animal Identification System is a mess," Hoenig said bluntly, criticizing what he said were "abrupt changes in federal policy" that were not well-communicated to the public or state agriculture officials.
Added Hoenig: ". They [federal officials] tried to bite off more than they could chew. They should have focused on cattle."
USDA now says any program to register premises or identify animals will be voluntary, unless states decide to make it mandatory. Hoenig told the farmers assembled at the Hutchinson Center the state "needs to develop a program that works for Maine."
Hoenig said state officials had made great strides in controlling and eliminating animal diseases. That led to one of the more provocative questions.
"Why do you need a better system [of animal identification] if the old system was effective?" asked Logan Perkins of Freedom.
"Maybe we can do it faster and do it better," said Hoenig, who said a fast and effective response would limit the cost of an animal disease outbreak.
Hoenig laid part of the blame for what was perceived as the initially heavy-handed attitude of federal officials to the time in which the animal ID program was being developed: The aftermath of the terrorist bombings of Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks in the U.S. mail.
"It was discovered that there were terrorist organizations that had researched biological warfare [with weapons that could cause epidemics among animals]," he said. "In that climate, people were thinking it would be a good idea if we could get a handle on it."
Hoenig acknowledged it was not politically feasible to require mandatory registration of livestock producers. "If you don't have the cooperation of the people who own the animals, you're not going to get anywhere," he said.
For some producers, like Marty Sarah Moore of Jackson, animal identification was already a fact of life.
"I raise alpacas," said Moore. "We already have animal registration . people are very careful and strict about the movement of these animals."
Others, such as Will Neils of Appleton, were skeptical of Hoenig's conciliatory approach. "You're coming out with ideas that are similar to the ones that were proposed before, but you're soft-pitching it," he said.
Countered Hoenig: "The USDA [now] says the plan will be voluntary and market-driven. We don't have plans to do anything different here. Even though I think we ought to have [mandatory] premises registration, that's not going to fly."
For more information about Maine's animal identification efforts, visit idmaine.info/index.html. Background on the National Animal Identification System can be found at http://animalid.aphis.usda.gov/nais/faq/faq.shtml#Q17
State Brand Listing (41)
Producer Resources for Direct Marketing Beef
National Animal Identification System
Animal ID Program to Remain Voluntary
By Libby Quaid, Associated Press Food and Farm Writer email@example.com
Faced with widespread opposition, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday the animal tracking program should remain voluntary.
"Really embracing this as a voluntary program ... will help the trust issues that some farmers and ranchers have raised about the national animal identification system," said Bruce Knight, undersecretary for marketing and regulation.
"I'm certainly hoping to move beyond some of the very emotional debates on animal ID," Knight said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Many cattle ranchers are wary of the program because they want records kept confidential and don't want to pay for the system. The industry estimates it could cost more than $100 million annually to register and report the movements of livestock and poultry.
"It is critically important for USDA to explain what the cost of this program will be, and how the proprietary information will be protected, before they go any further," said Bill Bullard, chief operating officer of R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund http://www.r-calfusa.com), a Western ranchers' group.
"We believe USDA has gone too far, too fast," Bullard said.
Not just individual ranchers are skeptical. The state of Vermont decided in August to hold off on participating in the system because officials were worried about the privacy of farm information.
So far, about 23 percent of the nation's ranches, feed lots, livestock barns and other facilities have registered their premises with the Agriculture Department.
The department's goal is to have all premises registered by January 2008 and to have full participation in the system by January 2009.
The system would identify cattle individually with tags or other devices. There are high-tech ways to monitor their movements, often with radio-frequency ear tags but also with retinal scans of eyes or even DNA testing.
Hogs and poultry could be registered in groups, because that typically is how they move through the food chain.
Last year, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that participation would be mandatory by 2009. Later, Johanns said it would be required someday.
Knight said 2009 is still the goal for full participation.
"I am very confident that this program will stand on its own as a voluntary program," he said.
Knight added: "Unfortunately, I think some of the debate of mandatory versus voluntary has actually distracted folks to the point that it's impeded participation. And I'd much rather just get about the business of making the program operational."
First promised in response to the discovery of mad cow disease in this country, the tracking system would pinpoint an animal's movements within 48 hours after a disease was discovered.
Investigators never found all 80 of the cattle that came to the U.S. from Canada with the infected dairy cow that became the country's first case of mad cow disease in 2003.
There are more than 90 million cows, 60 million hogs and nearly 9 billion chickens in the United States.