NCBA leader wants to build on successful animal-tracking plans created by states
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Cattlemen say they are cautiously optimistic about the impact USDA's proposed animal identification rule will have on them.
Last February, USDA discarded plans for a mandatory national animal identification system, or NAIS, 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.
Reardan, Wash., rancher Ed Gross said he feels more confident about the proposed rule's impact on him following a Oct. 6 presentation by Washington State Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge.
"It's a lot simpler than I thought, because I won't have to use it within the state," he said.
Going out of state, Gross only has to use the tag on steers, as his heifers are vaccinated for brucellosis, and the state provides identification numbers.
"For me, it won't be too bad, if that's the way it's going to stay," Gross said.
Sprague, Wash., rancher Vickie McPeak said her operation will probably have to do a little more work. They're already tagging their calves at the request of a buyer, and source-verifying through a beef source traceability program.
"If we can do it reasonably, I'm not against it, but it needs to be affordable and it needs to work," she said.
USDA is preparing the proposed rule, which will come out in April, said Neil Hammerschmidt, manager of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Animal Disease Traceability program.
A 60- to 90-day comment period will follow, with a final rule published 12 to 15 months later, he said.
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.
Once there is a final rule, implementation will be phased in.
"Producers who ship or sell interstate may want to consider their current tagging practices and how best to make it practical to expand the use of official identification in their operation," Hammerschmidt said.
So far, industry members believe this may be the bulk of the impact for them.
Elizabeth Parker, chief veterinarian for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the details are up for discussion until the proposed rule comes out.
State details and performance standards still need to be worked out, she said.
Many producers already identify their cattle as part of marketing plans or for genetic information, Parker said.
"We certainly want the producers to be able to continue to utilize the successful programs and basically build on those," she said.
Parker sees an opportunity for cattle producers to proactively provide input to develop a system that works.
Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, said the proposed rule is significantly better for producers than NAIS, which included mandatory electronic tags.
"Most of these guys are doing some component of it already," he said. "This looks to be a very workable, user-friendly, producer-friendly, confidentiality-secure, cost-effective, commerce-friendly proposal."
But Parker and Peterson both urge producer involvement and vigilance as the rule moves forward.
They said a concern is the potential for different systems in each state. The association encourages producers and state veterinarians to work together to meet USDA requirements in a manner that works well for all business models in the beef industry.
Washington State Department of Agriculture Animal ID Program Manager David Hecimovich has heard from producers concerned that packers and processors receive an unfair advantage.
"Packers don't meet the rule, it's the people that bring the animals to the packers," he said. "There will be some restrictions and exemptions on feeder cattle, but those cattle are allowed to move without certain requirements other producers have to meet."
Feeder cattle would eventually be phased in to the proposed rules, Hecimovich said. He stressed that the comment period is still open for the proposed rule.