National Animal ID - Why?

June 2005
Brantley Ivey - Polk County Extension, Livestock Agent

There has been a lot of hype over the last couple of years about National Animal ID. It seems like we keep asking the same questions and getting the same answers. The fact is there has been no major advances in the program since we all became aware that it would happen sometime. Many livestock industry leaders have been pressing the USDA to answer questions, since former Secretary Ann Veneman announced the importance of NAID in January of last year. Some of the deadlines have come and gone, and still no definite plans. On 05 May of this year the USDA went on record with its intent to implement the NAID Program and announced the implementation dates. The dates that were announced are, 2008 for premise identification and 2009 for mandatory reporting of movement in commerce, but this is no news. This is still four years behind the expected induction of the program and even the adamantly opposed are not as rattled as they were a year ago. Here is what we do know, USDA has already committed 18.8 million dollars to the program, they have 33 million in the budget for this year and the president has another 33 million designated to the program for next year (of course with 40 million calves being born annually at $2 a tag, this sounds insignificant) Florida is one of the States that received some of the monies. This money was allocated to help the state departments of agriculture develop a premise ID plan. Current Secretary of Agriculture Johanns has said that he is eager to hear from farmers and ranchers so they can develop a final plan, but the period for open comment from producers lasted 31 days and is now closed. I have been telling producers to just hang on and wait until we hear more. One thing that producers can do is go ahead and register for your premise ID number now with the Florida Department of Agriculture's Animal Industry division.

Why has it become so important all the sudden to have such a program? One of the reasons for pushing this issue is BSE. Let's think for a moment about what happened in December of 03. There was one Holstein cow found in Washington State that tested positive for BSE. Luckily, it was a dairy cow and dairies are good at keeping detailed records. Imagine for a moment that it was a woods cow that was tested positive for BSE! Even with detailed records, it still took several weeks to track down the animal's origin. Ultimately, we were able to prove that the animal did indeed come from Canada. If it had been a crossbred flat woods cow, we would still be tracing her background. Even though we proved to the world that the U.S. was still technically BSE free, in a matter of hours we lost nearly all of our foreign trade. It is estimated that our foreign market is worth $12 - $16/cwt. We are experiencing great prices now, could you imagine if we still had our foreign market! It will be pertinent in the future to have source verified cattle in order to maintain or re-gain our trade. Do we really need another government program? Yes, if it will ensure our trading partners that we (U.S.) are taking the proper steps to ensure the safety of our product. If it takes another five years to implement the program, that is fine as long as it is done in such a manner that will work for producers.

One common misnomer is that you will have to tag all of your cattle. The only requirement in NAID will be to tag those cattle that enter commerce. In essence, you can retain a heifer; she can live her productive life on your ranch and never have to be tagged if she doesn't leave the premise. There could also be a positive to come out of the National Animal ID Program. All the USDA wants to get from the electronic tag is premise of origin, but these tags are capable of doing so much more. Electronic tags are useful tools for tracking information on one animal from the time it is born until the time of harvest. There are so many management decisions that can be made back on the ranch once information is gathered from your final product. Now, by the time you receive the harvest information on calves, the bull has already bred your females twice. While I am not necessarily advocating electronic management, I do think that when you can individually manage animals you can be more precise with your bottom line. We do not really know when this program will be implemented, but we do know that the industry needs the program. The industry needed the program years ago, but now we are looking at 2008 before it gets rolling.

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