Optimism, concern mixed for animal disease tracing network

Funding priorities identified for NAIS replacement
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Both supporters of voluntary animal disease tracing systems and supporters of mandatory systems have expressed optimism and concern about the developing state-based network.

The Department of Agriculture announced Feb. 5 that animal disease traceability will become mandatory for animals that cross a state or tribal nation boundary in commerce. But it will be up to state and tribal nation officials to decide how to meet USDA's minimum requirements.

The state-based network is being developed to replace the National Animal Identification System, a voluntary federal animal tracking system that attracted participation from only about a third of the nation's livestock and poultry producers. The AVMA advocated for implementation of a mandatory system that could quickly trace the movements and locations of ill and exposed animals during a disease outbreak.

Beef cattle in a corral

Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO, has said that a mandatory animal identification system could save millions of animals and billions of dollars through quick disease containment and eradication. Following the announcement that the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was cancelling the NAIS, Dr. DeHaven expressed concerns about communication and coordination among states and tribal nations with separate disease tracing systems, but he said the AVMA would consider endorsing the plan when more information was available.

While Rep. Glenn W. Thompson of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, had objected to implementation of a mandatory NAIS because of cost and privacy concerns, he also expressed his view that the new animal tracing system could be acceptable, depending on details that he expects will emerge from a USDA-APHIS proposal this fall.

"I have supported a voluntary NAIS that farmers could opt into," Rep. Thompson said. "And it is possible I can support the new framework if it is not mandatory."

However, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, chair of the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, has expressed concern that "moving from a single system capable of integrating and analyzing information across state lines to a collection of over 50 smaller systems" that are reliant on differing technology could prove less effective for national animal disease surveillance and response. But she was encouraged to see that the USDA had formed a detailed plan to implement a nationwide system.

The AVMA is among veterinary medical organizations that supported the implementation of a nationwide animal identification system.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, said his organization is disappointed the USDA scrapped the NAIS, which the AASV had supported, promoted to swine veterinarians, and seen as important for veterinarians and producers.

"We see this as a backslide," Dr. Burkgren said.

The AASV board of directors passed in October 2007 a position statement in support of a national animal identification system with premise registration for disease control programs. Dr. Burkgren said the board intended to support a national program that would not require states to create their own identification systems or require the pork industry to deal with differences between state programs.

The AASV position statement indicates the organization "recognizes the importance of rapidly responding to disease outbreaks and the necessity of identifying locations housing susceptible livestock." It also urged AASV members to register premises such as veterinary clinics and farms and to promote registration to clients.

The AASV position aligns with that of the National Pork Producers Council, which has favored implementation of a mandatory federal animal identification system for all livestock and poultry.

"Having such a mandatory system in place would enhance U.S. animal health officials' ability to trace diseased or exposed animals to their farm of origin and identify other potentially exposed premises within 48 hours after the discovery of a disease," NPPC information states.

However, veterinarians in the cattle industry maintain differing opinions over the need for a national disease tracing system.

Dr. M. Gatz Riddell, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, said his organization had not taken a position on the new system of animal identification and tracing of animal movements.

The AABP board of directors understands members of the organization have a mix of opinions favoring and opposing a mandatory animal identification system. But the general consensus among board members is that "having a robust animal ID system with 48-hour traceback capability is critical to the protection of the health of the national cattle herds," Dr. Riddell said.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association supports implementation of a voluntary, market-driven animal identification system. Steve Foglesong, president of the NCBA, said he supports the new approach to animal disease traceability because of the greater state involvement and increased choices for identification technology.

Bethany Shively, a spokeswoman for the NCBA, said it is important that the new system build on existing identification databases and systems, including private databases.

Dr. Riddell indicated a strong national animal identification system would help protect animal health during foreign animal disease outbreaks, emerging or re-emerging disease outbreaks, and acts of agricultural or biological terrorism. It appears less likely to him that the new network of local systems will provide such protection, but he said the system is still under development, and it could provide innovative solutions. 

Funding the network

During a meeting March 18-19 in Kansas City, APHIS officials and state and tribal leaders discussed plans for animal disease traceability and cooperative agreements for the fiscal year starting April 1, 2010.

A USDA document states that funding priorities during the fiscal year include maintenance of existing animal disease tracing infrastructure; outreach to producers, accredited veterinarians, livestock market owners, and harvest facility owners; and advancement of tracing ability through data collected from various sources, including disease-related programs and certificates of veterinary inspection. The USDA will provide funding for expenses such as data entry, computer hardware, travel costs connected with improving animal disease tracing, and animal tags formerly intended for use with the NAIS.

The meeting was called to allow for discussion of standards and performance measurements for the new program.

A document from the meeting indicates the USDA will likely publish in the Code of Federal Regulations a proposal that would require that livestock animals moved interstate be officially identified and originate from a state or tribe that meets animal disease tracing performance standards for that species. A 90-day public comment period will follow publication of any proposed regulations, and APHIS will analyze comments and draft a final rule to be published in the Federal Register. The USDA will likely set a delayed compliance date, such as six or 12 months after publication of the final rule.