Sunday, November 26, 2006

Animal ID to remain voluntary, administration says

One part of the national strategy to protect Americans from mad cow disease is scientific testing of cows. Earlier developments are that USDA in July announced a reduction in the government's testing program and then continued this month to defend in court its decision to prohibit a beef producer from voluntarily testing cattle for the disease.

Another part of the national strategy to protect Americans is animal identification. Public health experts consider the status quo a shambles. Yet, after years of acknowledging the public health importance of being able to trace the origins of beef and other food animals, USDA announced this week that any national identification system would be voluntary. The AP's Libby Quaid reported (via Forbes):
The Bush administration is abandoning plans to make farmers and ranchers register their cows, pigs and chickens in a nationwide database intended to help limit disease outbreaks.

Faced with widespread opposition, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday the animal tracking program should remain voluntary. "Really embracing this as a voluntary program ... will help the trust issues that some farmers and ranchers have raised about the national animal identification system," said Bruce Knight, undersecretary for marketing and regulation...."

Last year, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced that participation would be mandatory by 2009. Later, Johanns said it would be required someday....

First promised in response to the discovery of mad cow disease in this country, the tracking system would pinpoint an animal's movements within 48 hours after a disease was discovered. Investigators never found all 80 of the cattle that came to the U.S. from Canada with the infected dairy cow that became the country's first case of mad cow disease in 2003.