CFBF adopts flexible policy on animal ID

US - Keeping it flexible for livestock producers to choose whether they want to participate in the National Animal Identification System, delegates to the California Farm Bureau Federation agreed to support neither a mandatory nor voluntary program in its policy, reports CFBF's Ching Lee.
calendar icon 3 January 2007
clock icon 5 minute read

Delegates to the state's largest farming organization adopted the proposed new policy on Dec. 5 during the 88th CFBF Annual Meeting in Anaheim. Except for a single change, CFBF's policy on livestock identification is nearly identical to the American Farm Bureau Federation's policy, which calls for a mandatory program.

By leaving out the words "mandatory" and "voluntary," CFBF is allowing more wiggle room for implementation of the policy, said CFBF Second Vice President Kenny Watkins, a cattle producer in San Joaquin County.

"The language that was agreed upon is flexible language," he said. "It gives the conditions that are important to the producers in California and gives the leadership flexibility to deal with an evolving program that's being developed so that we can make it work for all of the producers in California."

The Beef and Aquaculture Commodity Advisory committees both advanced the NAIS policy recommendations. Yolo County beef cattle producer Casey Stone said the language adjustment was also an attempt to align with AFBF's policy on keeping country-of-origin labeling a voluntary program. Many California producers favor mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

The ability to identify and track livestock became top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture following the nation's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy discovered in a Washington state dairy cow in 2003. Since then, federal and state officials have been working to implement a more modern, streamlined information system to help producers and animal health officials trace an animal back to its originating ranch or farm during a disease outbreak.

But the controversial plan has ignited opposition and criticism from livestock producers across the nation, much of it having to do with cost, confidentiality and concern for more government regulations. Federal officials in November announced that the program would remain voluntary.

Doug Beretta, a Sonoma County dairy producer, said he favors a mandatory program and suggested putting the word back in CFBF's policy. He noted that other countries already have animal trace-back programs in place.

"My concern is we put this program in for disease control in case there is some type of outbreak," he said. "If we don't have anything in control, it could just be devastating. We've already lost so many sales overseas after just the one BSE cow. I just think you have to have a system in place to show the consumer that we care about our product."

Other producers, however, feel the market will ultimately drive the program if there's enough of an economic incentive for producers to sign up.

"I think the intent of the whole program is being changed a little bit," said Stone. "It started out as simply a herd health issue and a tracking mechanism for disease outbreak. It's kind of become a marketing mechanism at this point. So for those producers who want to utilize the (radio frequency identification) technology and use it for marketing purposes, I think it has a place. But I don't think it's something you can force on everybody."

There are three parts to NAIS: livestock premises identification, animal identification and disease trace back.

Martin Pozzi, a sheep and beef cattle producer in Marin County, said he's been using electronic tags to identify his calves for the last four years and would like to see the market develop the program but have it remain voluntary.

"It's kind of a value-added program from the sense that you're getting a premium for your product," he said. "If it were a mandatory program, then why does a packer have to pay you anything extra for your electronically identified calf? We're all trying to work to make our products worth more. Once people figure out how the program works for them, I think the program will just grow by itself."

CFBF delegates also adopted additional language in its policy to support implementation of any animal identification program on a species-by-species basis. In addition, the policy specifies that existing systems that already provide animal movement tracking and premises identification should be used if these systems fundamentally meet the goals proposed under NAIS.

While the USDA may have shifted its initial goal of establishing a mandatory animal ID program to one that is voluntary, the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has consistently supported a mandatory program, said Bill Hawks, former USDA undersecretary and chief executive officer of AgWorks Solutions LLC, which provides consulting on agricultural issues.

In a special presentation at the CFBF Annual Meeting, Hawks gave an overview of the current NAIS and the political ramifications the new 110th Congress would have on the federal program.

"I think you're going to see a strong effort to move animal ID forward," Hawks said. "I think what Chairman Peterson will probably be thinking is if he's seen some real positive movement with what USDA is doing now in short order, then I think it may continue in that vein. He doesn't feel like it's moving fast enough and I think you may see some stronger encouragement and pressure from Congress to move it forward."

Hawks reminded producers that while animal identification "is not anything new," what is different with NAIS is USDA's "desire to conform it, consolidate it and set national standards to have a system that would work quickly and to be much more economical." For such a system to work, there must be state, federal and private sector cooperation, he said.

He also emphasized that no single method of identification will work for all sectors of animal agriculture and producers need to decide what would best suit their situation.

"Technology is evolving," he said. "You need to pick the technology that fits your operation. One size doesn't fit all. The best results can be obtained when you understand the limitations of the technology you choose. You've got to know what you're getting, what it will do and what it won't do and you need to match the technology with the environment."

The complete text of all CFBF policies for 2007, including the National Animal Identification System policy (No. 23), will be carried in thr Jan. 10 issue of Ag Alert.

TheCattleSite News Desk

© 2000 - 2024 - Global Ag Media. All Rights Reserved | No part of this site may be reproduced without permission.