Federal agriculture authorities are asking stakeholders in livestock and poultry industries to provide input on the National Animal Identification System.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a written statement provided May 4 that approximately 35 percent of farmers in the U.S. are participating in the voluntary system, and concerns remain over cost, the impact on small farmers, privacy, confidentiality, and liability.
"Today, I am asking farmers and stakeholders to engage with USDA in a more productive dialogue about NAIS," Secretary Vilsack said in the written statement. "Now is the time to have frank and open conversations."
The USDA is seeking comments at www.regulations.gov as part of that dialogue. To submit comments, type APHIS-2009-0027-0001 into the site's search box.
The deadline for online comments was not determined as of press time.
Department of Agriculture officials had also at press time scheduled seven meetings from May 14 to June 1 in cities across the country to seek suggestions and comments on the system.
Dr. John Clifford, deputy administrator for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in testimony May 5 before two House subcommittees that about 70 percent of animals of a given species or sector would need to be identified and traceable for the NAIS to be successful.
"While 70 percent would provide some measure of traceability, I must emphasize that we really need to achieve higher participation rates, perhaps as high as 90 percent, to ensure the benefits of the system," Dr. Clifford said, according to a transcript from the House Committee on Agriculture.
Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, testified March 11 before the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry that the AVMA supports implementation of a mandatory NAIS. He said livestock disease outbreaks can be devastating for animal production, food production, and trade, and a mandatory NAIS would reduce the time needed to control such an outbreak and minimize the economic and public health impacts.
Dr. James O. Cook, AVMA president, was among more than two dozen stakeholders who gave presentations on the NAIS during a roundtable discussion hosted by the USDA on April 15.
Dr. Cook said the AVMA strongly supports implementation of an animal identification program that can trace the origins and travels of animals within 48 hours. Without such a system, U.S. agricultural producers would face problems involving trade restrictions and disease control, he said.
"For a highly contagious disease such as foot-and-mouth disease, a rapid response made possible with a National Animal Identification System could save millions of animal lives and billions of dollars," Dr. Cook said, according to a USDA transcript.
"Animal identification systems are becoming prerequisites to international trade, and studies describe how our nation lags behind major livestock-producing countries in terms of animal traceability."
Joelle R. Schelhaus, a spokeswoman for USDA-APHIS, said the USDA is still promoting the NAIS as a voluntary system, and the public would be told if that were to change.