US meat industry worries about abandoning NAIS
The US meat industry is worried about the federal decision to abandon the $120 million National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
Meatpackers worry that a narrower programme, as proposed by US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack could exacerbate worries abroad about US meat exports, while state officials are concerned the federal government is creating a new regulatory burden for which states have scant resources.
Not enough participation
Federal officials, however, say the six-year-old voluntary programme never attracted sufficient participation from farmers to be effective. NAIS was designed to allow the federal government to track the movements of tens of millions of swine and cattle – among other animals – using 15-digit serial numbers, electronic ear tags and tiny transponders.
Experts have long argued a US-wide livestock identification is critical for rapidly containing livestock diseases. Outbreaks across the globe of mad-cow disease, avian influenza and Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) have cost farmers billions of dollars since the 1990s.
Countries like Australia, Canada, Japan and the European Union have mandatory livestock ID programmes.
NAIS was supported by many large producers of milk, chickens and pigs, as well as meatpackers, during the 2003 BSE crisis. Afterwards, however, many producers have criticised the voluntary programme for e.g. privacy or religious reasons.
Early February, Vilsack said that he was starting over with a different, mandatory programme. Hoping to placate small farmers leery of federal oversight, Vilsack wants state governments to keep track of livestock – but only those animals moving across state borders.
It is unclear what percentage of US livestock would fall outside the proposed programme.
Many meatpackers are afraid the new system won't change the attitude of importing countries that are quick to close borders in case of animal disease outbreaks in the United States. They fear identification practices will vary among states, which may tamper efficient traceability.
The USDA aims to publish a proposed rule by the end of 2010.
• US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
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