US meat industry worries about abandoning NAIS

23-02-2010 | |

The US meat industry is worried about the federal decision to abandon the $120 million National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Meatpackers worry that a narrower program, as proposed by US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, could exacerbate worries abroad about US meat exports, while state officials are concerned the federal government is creating a new regulatory burden for which states have scant resources.

Not enough participation

Federal officials, however, say the 6-year-old voluntary program never attracted sufficient participation from farmers to be effective. NAIS was designed to allow the federal government to track the movements of tens of millions of animals using 15-digit serial numbers, electronic ear tags and tiny transponders.

Experts have long argued that national US livestock identification is critical for rapidly containing livestock diseases. Outbreaks across the globe of mad-cow disease, avian influenza and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) have cost farmers billions of dollars since the 1990s.

Countries like Australia, Canada, Japan and the EU have mandatory livestock ID program.

NAIS was supported by many large producers of milk, chickens and pigs, as well as meatpackers, during the 2003 BSE crisis. Afterwards, however, many producers have criticised the voluntary program for e.g. privacy or religious reasons.

Mandatory programme

Early February, Vilsack said that he was starting over with a different, mandatory program. Hoping to placate small farmers leery of federal oversight, Vilsack wants state governments to keep track of livestock, but only those animals moving across state borders.

It is unclear what percentage of US livestock would fall outside the proposed program.

Many meatpackers are afraid the new system won’t change the attitude of importing countries that are quick to close borders in case of animal disease outbreaks in the US. They fear identification practices will vary among states, which may tamper efficient traceability.The USDA aims to publish a proposed rule by the end of 2010.

Natalie Berkhout Freelance journalist
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