USDA officials say proposal will be ready by April
By MATTHEW WEAVER
PASCO, Wash. -- USDA officials say they hope by April to introduce a proposed rule laying out the states' roles in a new system for tracing animal diseases.
The department held its final public hearing on the new traceability plan -- formerly called the animal ID plan -- Aug. 24 in Pasco, Wash.
About 40 industry members and Washington State Department of Agriculture representatives were on hand, with most of the discussion focusing on cattle.
Neil Hammerschmidt, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service animal disease traceability program manager, said the department will evaluate feedback received through August, and he hopes to have a proposed rule published in April.
After a 60- to 90-day comment period, the final rule will be published 12 to 15 months later, when the regulation will go into effect.
Hammerschmidt believes the new plan, which shifts control to the state level, has been well-received by producers.
A previous mandatory federal animal ID plan was met by a storm of protest from some producers.
Hammerschmidt continues to hear from some who feel progress should be quicker and at a higher level of traceability, he said, while others are more comfortable with a low-technology, low-startup cost approach.
"It's going to be a massive undertaking," said Pendleton, Ore., cattle buyer Ron Currin of Beef Northwest. "This first system is not going to be perfect, but it's better than we've got now, which is no traceback of any kind."
Currin said the plan essentially creates two classes of calves: those that are transported across the state line and need to be tagged, and those that stay in-state and don't need to be tagged. Out-of-state buyers need to buy a tagged calf, and would have no interest in an untagged calf they can't export.
Currin believes the process under the new regulations would basically be no different from what it is now.
"Most of the burden from this meeting looks like it's placed on the state veterinarians to keep track of all these numbers, eartags and databases," he said.
Washington state veterinarian Leonard Eldridge said that during a disease outbreak USDA and other agencies will ask states if they are able to tell where an animal came from, where it went and if the disease can be contained. If so, the rest of the animals in the state will move without restriction.
Eldridge's office is finishing a database that will allow ranchers and others to enter and access information electronically, but it costs resources, staff and time to enter and maintain the data, he said.
Jack Field, executive vice president of the Washington Cattlemen's Association, said USDA needed to clarify some issues.
Field said he is concerned about the impact the changes may have on public livestock markets, and would have liked to see them represented at the meeting.
"There is concern at some of the large feeder-calf sales in the fall that markets might not be able to respond to the volume of cattle that would be there if they needed to be identified," he said.
Field said the industry needs to work collectively to obtain cooperative dollars for collaborating states to ensure no one state bears the bulk of the cost to record, enter and manage cattle data.
"The program has definite merit if indeed we are able to provide information that will enhance traceback or surveillance for disease detection or eradication," he said.
Not everyone was satisfied with the plan.
Wade King, president of the Cattle Producers of Washington, said he hoped to see more emphasis on disease prevention and increased USDA border security.
"Any animal disease traceability should be the benefit of effective disease prevention," he said. "All of our recent animal health events have come from Canada, and they even had a slide showing they will maintain import regulation protocol. They're not serious about preventing the introduction of disease into our state. Their priorities are not in order."