MOSES LAKE, Wash. — The director of the Washington State Department of Agriculture and his staff outlined plans for an animal disease traceability program during the Cattle Producers of Washington annual meeting in Moses Lake, Wash.
The Washington State Legislature has provided $881,000 to develop a more reliable identification program.
“There are all these unanswered questions — well, that’s unacceptable,” Ag Director Bud Hover said of the current system. He spoke to CPOW members Oct. 19.
He considers one of the largest holes a 15-head exemption for the state dairy industry.
“It doesn’t make sense to develop a program that is incomplete or has flaws,” Hover said.
Lynn Briscoe, policy assistant to the director for the department, said the exemption is part of current livestock inspection rules. All cattle are required to be inspected prior to a change of ownership or movement out of state, but there is an exemption for private sales of 15 head or less of unbranded dairy cattle.
“There’s no documentation, there’s no movement transaction information when that exemption is utilized,” Briscoe said. “No one knows that that movement is taking place other than the two dairymen.”
Hover said he considered the exemption from every angle about the importance of the rule, and decided to remove it, noting that the majority of problems have so far originated at dairies.
“I’m not picking on the dairies — I’m looking at it from a more pragmatic standpoint,” Hover said. “This is the direction we need to go, period, in order to protect both industries.”
Hover welcomes feedback from the industry as the department works to develop the program.
The department has begun the process to change the exemption. The process can take 18 months to several years, including hearings, said Hector Castro, spokesman for the department.
Okanogan, Wash., rancher Craig Verjaska, a former president of CPOW, welcomed the plan to lift the exemption.
“We needed somebody like Director Hover to step up to the plate (and) make the decision,” Verjaska said. “It’s to all our benefits to make sure we don’t have an outbreak, or if we do have some kind of foreign animal disease, that we can trace it instantaneously so that we can minimize the loss.”
Washington State Dairy Federation Executive Director Jay Gordon said conversations are ongoing with Hover and the department.
The dairy industry expects the 15-head exemption to go away when there is an electronic reporting system, at some point during 2014, Gordon said. He would like to develop a system similar to one used by the cattle feeders or for motor vehicle ownership.
“When and how that exemption goes away is what we’re in conversations with the department right now,” Gordon said. “(Hover) obviously wants to move this faster, so we’re in the middle of conversations about how we can make this happen faster.”
Gordon recognized the validity of the security concerns, but said the majority of dairy producers are not interested in switching to a brand system only. There’s a need when exporting animals or moving them out of state, he said, but using brand inspectors would be expensive and not helpful for the dairy industry, requiring a state-employed inspector every time a dairy farmer bought a bull from a neighbor.
“It is not a particularly useful program, especially how dairy farmers trade animals,” he said.