Feds finalize traceability rules
New plan replaces controversial National Animal Identification System
By TIM HEARDEN
The federal government has finalized an animal-traceability rule that will require livestock to be deemed disease-free before crossing state lines.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Chief Veterinary Officer John Clifford said the final rule would be published in the Federal Register on Dec. 28.
Under the rule, livestock that do not meet specific exemptions and are moved between states will have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.
"The final rule meets the diverse needs of the countryside" by allowing states and tribes to develop tracking systems that work best for them, Vilsack said. "USDA has listened carefully to America's farmers and ranchers, working collaboratively to establish a system of tools and safeguards that will help us target when and where animal diseases occur, and help us respond quickly."
The announcement came about 17 months after Vilsack and Clifford unveiled the new proposal, which had replaced an earlier mandatory identification system that had been scrapped amid a firestorm of criticism from producers.
The proposal spells out appropriate forms of identification for each species, such as eartags for cattle. However, shipping and receiving states or tribes could agree on other forms of identification, such as brands or tattoos, the USDA has advised.
The proposal came after the government set aside a more controversial proposed rule in 2010 that would have made it mandatory to participate in the National Animal Identification System.
Begun in 2004, NAIS aimed to pinpoint an animal's location within 48 hours of a disease being discovered. But as of 2009, only 36 percent of about 1.4 million premises had been registered under NAIS, according to the USDA.
The agency received about 1,600 written comments on its revised proposal, Vilsack said. One change in the final rule includes permanently allowing the use of backtags as an alternative to eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter.
Cattle, hog and poultry groups gave mixed reviews to the latest proposal when it was first unveiled. Some cattlemen said they were cautiously optimistic about the impact of the rule, noting that it's simpler than expected because they will not have to use it when moving livestock within a state.
Other ranchers expressed misgivings that the government seems to be phasing out brands, which they say are permanent and a tradition dating back to the Old West.
Vilsack reiterated that brands, tattoos and brand registration can be used for this program when they're accepted by the shipping and receiving states or tribes.
Some groups, including the California Cattlemen's Association, had opposed the phasing in of a requirement for identification of younger livestock and feeder cattle, which they argued is unnecessary because they present a lower risk of transmitting disease.
Vilsack said beef cattle under 18 months would be exempt unless they are moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos or recreational events. He said traceability requirements for this group would be addressed in a separate rule-making process, enabling the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to work with the industry on implementation.
Final animal traceability rule: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability