Photo by George Lauby
A conference committee in Congress has decided to fund the controversial National Animal Identification System for another year to the tune of $5.3 million.
That will be a significant reduction from previous years, but does not placate opponents of the still floundering, five-year-old program.
“We’re disappointed with the decision,” said Bill Bullard, the chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund.
Bullard was in North Platte Saturday at a convention of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska. R-CALF USA, ICON and 91 other groups asked Congress to eliminate the funds.
The critics say existing livestock records, such as brands, ear tags, veterinary logs and auction barn records do a good job of tracking cattle movements. USDA inspections at the borders are important to disease prevention, they say.
For instance, U.S. cattle have been free of foot and mouth disease since the 1920s. Another disease, brucellosis, has been largely prevented. If an occasional case appears, it is closely monitored and controlled.
In June, Nebraska and federal officials jumped on a single case of cattle tuberculosis in the northeast part of the state. To date 11,800 head have been tested, with no positive cases.
“The USDA is going from disease prevention to disease monitoring,” a speaker at the ICON convention said.
The program is voluntary, but state and federal authorities have urged it on and said inevitably every livestock owner will take part. The program is known as the “Locate in 48” program. The goal is to track a disease outbreak to the source herd within 48 hours.
But one speaker at the convention said, “If there ever is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth, no one would wait 48 hours to take action. They’d be on it right away.”
The Senate Appropriations Committee had approved $14.6 million for the NAIS program, the amount requested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the House allocated nothing.
The appropriation is part of the Agriculture appropriations bill.
Bullard said the $5.3 million could shore up the program where it is less expensive and cumbersome, such as in factory-style hog, poultry and cattle feeding operations.
Congress has appropriated $142 million for the national animal identification system since it began in 2004. The USDA has registered only 35 percent of animal premises.
Last year, the USDA got $14.2 million to run the program, but registrations increased by only three percent.