Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns continues to indicate that USDA's move toward a private, industry lead National Animal ID System will continue, despite considerable opposition from farmers, ranchers and some of their organizations.
Authorities trying to limit disease outbreaks hope to be able to trace livestock movements from birth to slaughter by 2009, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said Thursday.
The goal is to pinpoint a single animal's movements among the nation's 9 billion cows, pigs and chickens within 48 hours after a disease is discovered.
Many livestock producers have been wary of a tracking system, which the government promised to create after the nation's first case of mad cow disease two years ago in Washington state.
Johanns pointed out that Australia has gained an edge in Japan and other countries by marketing its livestock tracking system to sell beef.
"Traceability is being used as a marketing tool by several countries," Johanns said.
Japan banned American beef after the first case of mad cow and blocked shipments again in January when inspectors found prohibited cuts of veal. Japan was a $1.4 billion market for U.S. beef in 2003.
For nearly a year, 2009 has been Johanns' goal, but he made it official Thursday.
The department has shifted gears on other parts of the animal identification system. Johanns said last May it would be government-run. Now, Johanns is letting industry groups create their own tracking systems, so long as state and federal authorities are able to tap into the systems when needed.
This is a dramatic departure from earlier indications from USDA, including an admission earlier this year that the agency may lack the statutory authority to implement a mandatory system that is administered by private entities.
The goal is for all ranches, feed lots, sale barns, packing plants and other facilities to be registered, and all recently born animals assigned numbers by 2009, said the department's chief veterinarian, John Clifford. Clifford said about 10 percent of the nation's 2 million premises have registered so far.
Still in question is whether or when it will become mandatory for U.S. producers to register and report the movements of cattle, hogs and poultry. Johanns has said the system probably will have to be mandatory.
"As we hit those benchmarks, we'll evaluate how we're doing, and that will really be what drives our next decision, as to when and if we need to look at ... the mandatory approach," Johanns said. "My hope is that the industry responds to see the competitive issues involved here."
The department has spent about $84 million on the system so far, including awards to states and American Indian tribes for developing ID programs.
The medical name for mad cow disease, a brain-wasting ailment, is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.
In people, eating meat products contaminated with BSE is linked to more than 150 deaths worldwide, mostly in Britain, from a deadly human nerve disorder, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
This article was compiled from a number of USDA news releases and other sources.
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