USDA Proposes System To Track Individual Cattle
SARA SCHAEFER MUÑOZ / Wall Street Journal 6may2005
In an effort to further protect the U.S. food supply from animal-disease outbreaks, the government proposed requiring farmers and meat processors to track all cattle, pigs and chickens over their lifetimes.
The goal is to identify animals exposed to disease within 48 hours, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. The program would require identification numbers for animal facilities, tags for individual cattle, and a central database that would receive daily updates on animal movements, agriculture officials said.
Chickens and pigs, which are generally moved in groups of several hundred animals, would get a group tracking number, the officials said. Mr. Johanns said the program would begin with voluntary animal registration and become mandatory in 2009.
The proposal comes as the U.S. is pushing Japanese officials to reopen their market to U.S. beef. An agricultural expert at the Embassy of Japan, Shin Yokoyama, called the proposed rule "good news," but said it wouldn't affect his country's approval process regarding U.S. beef. Japan halted beef imports after the first case of mad-cow disease in the U.S. was discovered in December 2003.
On Friday, Japan's food-safety panel said it would recommend waiving mad-cow-disease tests for cattle younger than 21 months — a step that could lead to the resumption of U.S. beef imports, the Associated Press reported. Tokyo has tested all cattle for the disease since discovering its first case of the fatal bovine illness in 2001. The food-safety panel endorsed an assessment made last month by the panel's scientific experts, who found that the risk of young animals becoming infected with the brain-wasting disease was extremely small.
The U.S. program would build on existing systems of animal tracking developed by the states and the livestock industry. The USDA is seeking public comment on the proposal for 30 days. Mr. Johanns called the plan and timelines "suggestions we can use as a starting point for an important discussion."
The Agriculture Department wants the cost to be shared between the federal government, states and the livestock industry. The USDA put $18.8 million toward the project last year and $33 million this year, and President Bush's fiscal 2006 budget request would direct $33 million more. USDA economists figure the animal identification tags could cost $80 million a year, but cattlemen say they are already spending about half that on current tagging systems.
Jay Truitt, vice president of government affairs at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, D.C., said his industry is developing a central database that will cost an estimated $10 million a year. The organization favors an industry database that gives the government access, he said. Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, Washington, D.C., said the industry already has a comprehensive tracking-and-tracing system in place. He said the rule might have a greater effect on live-chicken markets, where the birds' origins aren't always tracked.