U. S. Will Narrow Scope Of Livestock-Tracking Plan

The government will redraft its moribund livestock-tracking program, attacked as a violation of privacy, so it covers only animals that cross state lines, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Feb. 5.

In a speech to state agriculture directors, Vilsack said the revamped system would be run by states, with the Agriculture Department bearing much of the cost.

The tracking system is intended as a bulwark against the spread of dangerous diseases.

“We have to take a different direction,” Vilsack said. He listed guideposts for the program and said details would be agreed later.

While the new system would cover a high percentage of cattle, hogs and poultry – the major U. S. food animals – it would exempt backyard flocks and livestock that is sold and consumed locally.

Vilsack said the new focus was a response to complaints about federal intrusion into private property.

In a fact sheet, USDA said, “What is certain is that animal disease traceability will be required for animals moving in interstate commerce.”

Only a third of U. S. livestock producers have registered under the voluntary animal identification system now in place, too few for the system to be effective if there is an outbreak of contagious disease.

Congress has faulted USDA for inconsistent leadership and threatened to cut off funding.

USDA embraced a nationwide traceback system as a response to the discovery in late 2003 of the first U. S. case of mad cow disease. The system foundered on disagreements over confidentiality of information and who – the government or the private sector – would control the database.

Under the new plan, states would compile information about producers and be in charge of access to it, Vilsack said.

He said USDA would seek a flexible system that adapts to varying production systems across the country and that encourages lower-cost technology.

“Eartags will work. Eartags will be fine,” he said.

USDA official John Clifford said states could use systems already in place to identify livestock. Eartags are a commonly used approach that cost pennies apiece, he told reporters, while radio ID tags can cost a couple of dollars each.

A forum is planned for March to discuss how to develop the new system.

So far, the government has spent $140 million to set up an animal tracking system.

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