Animal tracking 'very complex,' Fernandez says
By TIM HEARDEN
Max Fernandez knows he has a difficult task ahead.
The 70-year-old sheep rancher from Centerville, Wash., was one of 20 people named to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's Advisory Committee on Animal Health.
The panel, which will begin meeting later this month, likely will try to figure out how to implement some sort of nationwide animal surveillance program, Fernandez said.
"We don't know exactly what is the aim of the commission ... but I truly believe the main thing is going to be to get the farms to be registered and, after that, there's going to be animal identification," Fernandez said.
"The country needs to come up with a way to identify animals and where they're coming from," he said. "We've got two years to come up with this and this is not going to be an easy thing."
The panel will advise Vilsack "on actions related to prevention, surveillance and the control of animal diseases of national importance," according to a USDA news release.
The group's formation comes after the USDA discarded plans last year for a mandatory national animal identification system, electing instead to create a national network focusing on traceability for cattle crossing state lines and placing the bulk of the heavy lifting on states and Indian tribes.
The agency is preparing a proposed rule, which will come out in April and be subject to a 60- to 90-day comment period, according to Neil Hammerschmidt, manager of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Animal Disease Traceability program.
Under the rule, producers who plan to ship or sell animals interstate will see more need for official identification of their animals, and for interstate certificates of veterinary inspection, Hammerschmidt told the Capital Press last month.
"This is a very complex thing, and it's not going to be easy," Fernandez said of implementing an animal-tracking program.
Meeting challenges is nothing new for Fernandez, who is perhaps best known for winning a labor lawsuit that went to the Washington State Supreme Court in 2005. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled that two of Fernandez's sheepherder employees were not entitled to back pay under the state's minimum wage.
Fernandez's open-range sheep ranching operation follows a family tradition that dates to the year 1400 in Spain, generations before part of the family immigrated to Chile, where they continued to raise sheep.
Fernandez has been in the United States since the 1960s, when he emigrated from Chile to attend college. He and his wife, Ann, purchased rangeland south and east of Centerville in 1980 for their sheep operation.
Fernandez, a political independent, said he believes the animal health committee members were picked to provide a variety of backgrounds as well as representing all regions of the country.
"I'm not going to go tell them what I think," he said. "I'm going to tell them what my fellow ranchers in the Northwest think ... and what they would like to see, because we are the ones who are going to have to live with (whatever decisions are made)."
The following individuals were chosen to serve two-year terms on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's Advisory Committee on Animal Health:
* Max Fernandez, a sheep rancher from Washington state
* John Fischer, a professor of wildlife disease from the University of Georgia at Athens
* Andrew Goodwin, a professor of aquaculture at the University of Arkansas
* Vicki Hebb, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who raises cows, calves and bucking horses
* Howard Hill, a veterinarian and pork production virologist from Iowa State University
* Donald Hoenig, state veterinarian from Maine
* Morris Johnson, a livestock farmer from Arkansas
* John Kalmey, a dairy, corn and alfalfa farmer from Kentucky
* Charles Massengill, former epidemiologist and animal health laboratory director for the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Animal Health
* David Meeker, senior vice president of Scientific Services, National Renderers Association from Virginia
* Judith McGeary, a sustainable farmer and attorney on agricultural law from Texas
* Boyd Parr, state veterinarian from South Carolina
* S. Gennell Pridgen, a small farm livestock producer from North Carolina
* Willie Reed, dean for the school of veterinary medicine at Purdue University in Indiana
* Charles Rogers, a livestock dealer and marketer from New Mexico
* Philip Stayer, a poultry veterinarian from Mississippi
* Gilles Stockton, a ranch operator and farmer from Montana
* Brian Thomas, a cattle producer from the Duck Valley Reservation
* Elizabeth Wagstrom, a swine veterinarian from Minnesota
* Cindy Wolf, a sheep and cattle farmer and ruminant specialist from Minnesota