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LMA expresses NAIS concerns to Vilsack

Industry concerned over speed of testing

America's livestock market operators are skeptical that the current National Animal Identification System (NAIS) plan will maintain the "speed of commerce" in livestock marketing--"an absolute necessity in maintaining a viable marketing system that serves tens of thousands of producers every day."

Because of those and other concerns, the policy of Livestock Marketing Association, which represents about two-thirds of all registered markets in the U.S., is that NAIS should remain a voluntary program.

That was the message brought by LMA Vice President for Government and Industry Affairs Nancy Robinson to an April 15 discussion on the future of NAIS. The discussion was called by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and held at USDA. Those invited included "the full spectrum of views" on NAIS, USDA said.

For markets, Robinson said, "speed of commerce" means processing and marketing cattle on sale day within just a few hours, minimizing weight shrinkage, protecting the safety and welfare of market employees and the livestock they handle, and moving animals on to their next destination "with a minimum of delay."

Maintaining this speed, she said, "is the key to assuring that everyone in the production, marketing and processing chain continues to profit and thrive." It must also be USDA's "principal benchmark" in decision-making on the development and implementation of any animal ID program.

Robinson identified other LMA member concerns with the NAIS plan. These include:

--Low-frequency RFID tag and tag reader technology has been shown to be inadequate in preserving the speed of commerce in most market settings. There is also no clear evidence that high-frequency RFID is a better solution.

--USDA must identify a standardized ID technology that's compatible from one livestock operation to another, before moving to a mandatory NAIS. The agency's current "technology neutral" position will result in many incompatible, imperfect ID technologies and systems, bringing "enormous inefficiencies and cost" to the industry.

--A mandated ID program will likely require many markets to establish tagging services for their consignors who are unable to tag their animals on farm. That will lead to many other concerns for the markets, including added costs to the market, worker safety, liability, and animal welfare.

--The current NAIS plan does not indicate how USDA will pay for putting the plan into operation. That will lead to more resistance to the program.

--The cattle ID systems in Australia and Canada should not be used to justify a similar U.S. ID program. The U.S. cattle industry is also not comparable, in several key areas, to the nation's swine, sheep and dairy industries - and any mandatory ID program should reflect those differences.

--It is time, Robinson said, to quit "muddying the NAIS waters with talk of value-added, trade, food safety and (country of origin labeling) benefits, and hone in on what" this effort "is really about--animal disease control and eradication."

--An ID program too expensive or difficult to comply or bother with "is certain to put any number of small producers out of business, and further contract the industry." That contraction and consolidation, as a consequence of a government-mandated NAIS program, "would be disastrous for rural America."

--If USDA is committed to a mandatory ID program, starting with the so-called "bookend" ID and tracking system would give the industry time to adapt to any new ID system requirements. It would also allow advanced ID technologies time to "catch up with the realities of the U.S. livestock industry."

The bookend system does not track livestock, movement by movement. Instead, it requires all livestock to be identified to their premises of origin, so that diseased animals can be more quickly traced by starting at the farm of origin, and back from the point at which the disease was detected, using available sales and other commercial records.

A bookend system would provide timelier tracking of diseased animals, without having to impose on the livestock industry a hugely expensive electronic, movement by movement ID system of questionable feasibility and value, Robinson said.

LMA appreciates Secretary Vilsack's understanding that the best policy for establishing "a complex, multi-faceted national animal ID program, befitting the size and scope of the U.S. livestock industry," is to proceed in a "deliberatively measured way."

However, Congress has made it clear to Vilsack that unless they see movement on NAIS, they will no longer fund the program. Thus, he indicated at the meeting that as USDA decides how to proceed, there will be more public hearings.

LMA stands ready and willing to work "with you and our industry partners," Robinson concluded, "in advancing a new, more constructive approach to NAIS, that meets the demands and needs of the U.S. livestock industry, and has the support of those directly affected by it."

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