Good News!... USDA Ends Livestock Tracking Program!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 02/14/2010 - 2:22am.

The Obama administration is killing a national livestock tracking program that never got off the ground amid widespread complaints by farmers and ranchers.

Instead, all cattle, hogs and poultry that cross state lines sometime during their life - which includes much of Iowa's hog production and more than a million beef cattle yearly - would be required to participate in some type of state tracking program.

Livestock that spend their entire lives in a single state, even if their meat is distributed elsewhere, would be exempt, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday that after holding a series of public hearings on the issue, it was "apparent that a new strategy for animal disease traceability is needed."

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey agreed, saying producers would likely be more willing to cooperate with state authorities than the USDA. "Something had to change," he said.

The Bush administration proposed the federally run ID system after the discovery of the nation's first case of mad cow disease in 2003. Consumer advocates said the creation of a mandatory ID system was critical to being able to trace the origin of contaminated food. Meatpackers, who think they get blamed for contamination that originates on farms or feedlots, also have been pushing the system.

But many producers complained about the potential cost of the ID tags and worried that they could be sued when tainted products were traced to their animals.

One report said a national animal identification system would cost producers about $228 million annually.

The USDA repeatedly shifted its plans, and most farmers failed to take even the first step toward participation: registering their farms with the USDA.

Northey, who was attending a Washington meeting where Vilsack announced the decision, said the government will have to make good on its assurances of federal funding for the new program. It is not yet clear how much a state program would cost.

Many of Iowa's livestock, especially hogs, are born outside the state and fattened on Iowa farms or shipped to Minnesota or elsewhere for slaughter.

Iowa imported 24 million young pigs in 2009, plus 232,407 breeding swine and 241,587 hogs for slaughter in 2009, according to the state Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. More than 1.2 million beef cattle and 35,171 dairy cattle also were brought into the state.

About 27,000 farms and other livestock-handling facilities have registered with the ID program from Iowa, 56.5 percent of the total.

One consumer advocate felt Vilsack had no choice but to kill the plan. "It just became a huge mess," said Chris Waldrop, director of the Consumer Federation of America's Food Policy Institute. "There was so much animosity towards it and so much history embedded in it that I don't think they could untangle it."

But he said it wasn't clear how the state-run systems were going to be compatible with each other. Some states might rely on ear tags, for example, while others would require the use of electronic IDs. He said it could be years before an ID system run by the states is operating.

Meatpackers weren't happy with Vilsack's move. "We are extremely disappointed by the failure" to implement the national program, said Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, which represents Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and other companies.

February 6, 2010 - source DesmoineRegister

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 02/14/2010 - 2:22am.