Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sent a letter November 16 to the Government Accountability Office requesting that it examine USDA's plans for a National Animal Identification System. The letter expresses concern that USDA has not yet implemented an animal ID program or informed producers and state governments about the costs the system will impose on them.
"Animal diseases have huge potential to disrupt Americaâ€™s food production and distribution system, turning livestock and poultry markets on their head," says Harkin. "After two years of discussions, USDA has no clear plan for moving forward with a workable system. Producers are getting upset that they still donâ€™t know how much the system will cost them and who will run it."
Harkin says the GAO report would shed needed light on how USDA is developing the animal ID system. Last month, Harkin wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns urging the department to inform producers about the potential costs of the system to their operations.
Harkin also asked USDA to justify its plan to hand over responsibility for animal tracking data to private entities. Harkin says an animal ID system is needed to contain and quickly eradicate animal diseases such as avian influenza, foot-and-mouth disease, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy from livestock and poultry.
In April, USDA issued a draft strategic plan outlining the time-frame for having the national animal identification system fully operational in the United States: by January 2008, USDA is to require all premises (farms with livestock or poultry) and individual animals or groups of animals to be identified and registered in the system. The tracking of the transportation and movement of animals will also become mandatory by January 2009.