Mandatory or Voluntary Remains the Big Issue for Animal ID

Opposing viewpoints presented to House hearing Wednesday.

Published on: Mar 12, 2009

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry held a hearing to review animal identification systems on Wednesday. The National Animal Identification System is a voluntary program that has been in place since 2004, but many are pushing for the program to become mandatory.

"I believe a mandatory system is necessary and carries with it many benefits," said Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga. "It would help protect producers against the spread of minor animal diseases, as well as from the devastating economic effects of major diseases. And, it would save the government money and provide a vital tool in maintaining the safety and integrity of the food supply."

The National Pork Producers Council urged Congress to support and fund the NAIS as a mandatory program applied to all relevant livestock species, and allowing each industry to develop its own effective and affordable system.

NPPC President Don Butler told the panel that a mandatory animal ID system will provide tools to manage swine herd health through disease surveillance, control and eradication programs, maintain and promote access to international markets, and strengthen the security of the nation's livestock industry.

The dairy industry also favors a mandatory system. Karen Jordan, chairperson of the National Milk Producer Federation's Animal Health and Welfare Committee, testified that the dairy industry collectively believes that the industry will be best served when all dairy operations, and ultimately, all dairy cows, are identified in a national central database.

However the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and R-Calf USA are opposed to a mandatory animal ID system. R-Calf President Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian, questioned the fact that NAIS would improve food safety, saying that every animal that goes through the livestock auction he works at gets a back-tag that identifies it to the owner and where it came from before it goes to slaughter, so he doesn't see how this system would improve safety.

"There are many disease traceback systems already in place," Thornsberry said. "We do not oppose animal identification, but we do oppose it being mandatory. Our policy is very simple: if you want to participate, fine, and if you don't, fine. We've had very successful systems in the past that have worked and functioned to control and eradicate diseases, and those systems are being disingenuously negated by USDA indicating that we must have a National Animal Identification System in place."