The South Dakota Stockgrowers are growing increasingly frustrated at the direction the USDA is taking animal traceability.
After James Halverson, executive director for the South Dakota Stockgrowers, attended a meeting of the Cattle Traceability Working Group (CTWG), the South Dakota Stockgrowers are growing increasingly concerned that the direction the group and the USDA is heading is not the direction that will work best for producers.
The CTWG, was conceived as a group of interested organizations and companies wanting give input on animal identification and how that system will work and function in the future. The South Dakota Stockgrowers have been involved with the CTWG since its inception and continues to take part in multiple conference calls of the group weekly. The South Dakota Stockgrowers Animal ID Committee Vice Chairman Les Shaw has been a regular on these calls, and has expressed his disappointment. “My frustration has grown with the CTWG,” he said. “I hate to think there was a predetermined agenda, but many times when we have voiced concerns about, liability, retention, privacy, cost, or speed of commerce, we seem to get pushed aside and reminded that we have to move forward!”
This became even more evident at a recent face-to-face meeting of the group in Des Moines, Iowa. “At this meeting some members of the group declared their intention to create a hand-picked Producers Council that will only welcome those who are in favor of advancing an electronic ID mandate to take part in the discussion going forward, as well as have a plan in place by June 1, of this year. This Producers Council will only be comprised of compliant producers, USDA officials, and Agri-business professionals,” Halverson said.
While insisting that they will stay “technology neutral,” the USDA has already established a timeline to implement mandated electronic ID on all breeding age cattle. Even after studies have shown that disease prevention and eradication can be achieved without a 100% compliance to electronic identification from producers, many within the CTWG and USDA claim it will be necessary to protect the industry against disease outbreaks. “It is perplexing to us how the USDA thinks a tag, tracking interstate movement of cattle, will be the biggest line of defense to disease outbreaks such as foot and mouth disease (FMD) yet at same time is negotiating deals to import beef from Brazil who has had recent problems with FMD as well as many other disease, sanitation, and inspection issues that have kept them out of the United States for good reason,” said Stockgrowers President Gary Deering.
USDA’s timeline includes ending the free metal tags that are currently being used for ADT at the end of this federal fiscal year which would be Sept. 30, 2019. They would then still accept these tags as official ID through 2020 and starting in 2021 would require electronic tagging. Notably there has been little discussion on who will bear the cost of these new tags.
There’s a laundry list of unanswered questions that would go along with such a system. Perhaps that is why recently the USDA announced the availability of $1 million to fund projects that will advance electronic ID in cattle traceability. Those studies, as well as others that are currently taking place in Kansas and Texas, obviously will not conclude in time to better help answer these questions before the USDA timeline is implemented. However, they USDA seems to be racing ahead regardless of little consensus or supporting data.
“We are very concerned that this push is putting the cart before the horse,” said Halverson. “Keeping up with the speed of commerce, ensuring security of private data, costs, liability, and feasibility are just a few of the many concerns we have. We aren’t against electronic ID. In fact, that can be a useful tool that many producers — including several on our board of directors — have decided to use, but we are against a top-down approach mandated to producers with little regard to whether that system will even work!”
The Stockgrowers encourage everybody to call their representatives and call the Stockgrowers office for more information. “We will do what we can to see that the needs of the cattle producer will get heard,” Halverson said.