By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

Cattlemen are hailing a congressional agreement to cut funding for the National Animal Identification System by nearly two-thirds.

Earlier this month, the conference committee on ag appropriations slashed funding from $14.67 million requested by USDA to $5.3 million.

Member cattlemen of Western Resources Council say it's a good first step toward stopping a bad idea.

"Congress should end funding, period," said DeJon Bakken, a rancher and Dakota Resource Council member from Adams County, N.D.

He said NAIS would not be an improvement over existing disease programs run by state agencies and would simply impose high costs and burdensome paperwork on family farmers.

Cattlemen's group R-CALF USA is disappointed Congress will continue to fund the program at any level.

"The opposition against the ill-conceived NAIS program by U.S. livestock producers has been widespread, fierce and intense," R-CALF USA President Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian, wrote in a letter to U.S. senators last week.

"Livestock producers are perhaps more united in their opposition to NAIS than they have been on any preceding issue that has affected the livestock industry," he said.

Opposition to NAIS by attendees at USDA's numerous listening sessions this spring was well above 85 percent, he said.

R-CALF supports a national disease strategy, saying it is sorely needed, but one without the encumbrances of NAIS.

"There are many sound reasons why the majority of animal owners have rejected the NAIS, despite the USDA's efforts to sell the program," said Judith McGeary, a Texas livestock producer and president of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. "The bottom line is that NAIS will not improve animal health or food security."

In its agreement, the conference committee noted that USDA has already spent $142 million on the program and, if significant progress isn't made with the additional $5.3 million, it will consider eliminating funding for the program.

In August, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association submitted written comment to USDA in support of NAIS, but it also registered concerns. Because information under a mandatory program would be housed by USDA and subject to Freedom of Information requests, the organization isn't confident cattlemen's confidential information would be protected. It supports a voluntary program instead.

The NCBA also wants a program that minimizes cost to producers and wouldn't interfere with the working, processing and marketing of cattle. In addition, it wants the clear distinction that NAIS is a tool to respond to an animal health emergency and not a food-safety tool.

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