Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Some time back I was talking with a Norwegian farmer about some of the differences between farming in Norway and farming in America. The farmer told me how much more paperwork his country required of its livestock producers. He summed things up by saying he had more detailed health records for his cows than he did for his kids. As odd as that sounds, that is the direction much of the world is headed. If we want to remain competitive in the world markets, we need to make sure the United States keeps pace. This includes livestock identification and movement documentation. This need is especially urgent when you consider the dual risks of livestock disease outbreaks and agro-terrorism. Each poses a serious threat to America's agriculture economy, and without a sound animal identification system, it would be much more difficult for us to define and contain the damage. When Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) was reported in Washington state last December, we were lucky in that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was able to trace the animal back to its birth herd in Canada. The ability to trace animals back to their birth herd is not always possible with today's system of animal identification. Think back to how uncomfortable that time was for consumers and for all of us in the agriculture community, and then think about how much more uncomfortable that situation would have been if the origins of the BSE positive cow had remained unknown. That could have easily been the case if we had been just a little less fortunate. I support the USDA in its efforts to design and implement a national animal identification system. In today's free market economy, animals and animal products are crossing state and international borders with increasing frequency. I believe a national system of animal identification is a very important component in our effort to protect our livestock industries from the harmful impacts of disease outbreaks and the threat of agro-terrorism. To have credibility with consumers and trading partners, a national animal identification system must ensure the ability to track each and every animal that enters the human food chain. The first step toward such a system is a sound method for identifying livestock premises. Minnesota has already taken some steps in this direction. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), working in partnership with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, has assembled a committee of livestock organization leaders to work with us on the implementation of an animal ID system. Recently, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Veneman came to Minnesota to announce the allocation of nearly $12 million to states for advancing the national animal identification initiative. Minnesota received $435,000, which will be used to develop a system for identifying livestock premises in the state. As we move ahead in this effort, I see a number of important issues that must be addressed at the national level if we are to successfully implement a national animal ID system. Cost is one major question. With finances tight for farmers and state agencies alike, any program that requires individual producers or states to cover the bulk of the expense are likely to fail. We also need to give thought to how we can develop a system that works well across state and national borders. We cannot have each state developing its own system - our animal identification program must work seamlessly from Florida to New Mexico to Minnesota. I am confident that working together, government officials and the farm community will be able to implement a sound animal ID system. It's an important goal for all of us with a stake in animal agriculture, and the MDA is committed to helping make it happen.