Bruce Knight, Undersecretary of Agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs, urged livestock producers attending the American Farm Bureau Federation's 88th annual meeting to participate in a voluntary nationwide program that could help prevent an animal disease outbreak from becoming widespread.
"The threat of a foreign animal disease outbreak is very real," Knight said, mentioning agri-terrorism as one possible catalyst for such an outbreak. [A few months ago it was Avian Influenza]"We need you involved to make the animal identification system effective and minimize the damage from an outbreak."
"It's a voluntary program, and it's not going to go mandatory" in the future, Knight said. [Is that so? Why not break out your copy of the Cooperative Agreement FY 2007 that encourages states to make it mandatory.] When asked by a member of the audience whether he can guarantee that members of Congress and future presidential administrations would not keep the plan voluntary, Knight said he believes it would be unlikely for any public official to change the plan in light of the intense criticism he or she would receive from angry producers. [Angry producers? I sure wish he'd stop calling me and those like me producers. We aren't. We don't have any global marketing going on. We are angry, though. He didn't lie about that.]
Regarding the confidentiality of the National Animal Identification System, Knight sought to allay the concerns many producers feel by stating the program would be maintained by state government and private entities, not the federal government. "We have built safeguards in the system to ensure" producer information is kept confidential and used only in declared emergencies, he said. [Was the Colorado blizzard an emergency that caused USDA to go "off label" with NAIS? I hope we hear an explanation for that soon.]
Knight said if producers would take a few minutes now to register their premises in the National Animal Identification System, it could save them in the long run.
"Delays lead to losses in livestock, income, markets and labor," he said. "A viable animal identification system will reduce unnecessary losses," including those of decades-old bloodlines, and better ensure future business viability.
He also encouraged livestock producers to remember the costs of a disease outbreak--which likely would involve quarantines--[and eradication in a 6 mile perimeter] to neighbors and communities when they weigh the pros and cons of premises registration. The more producers enrolled in the NAIS, the more likely the source of a disease outbreak could be traced within 24 hours. [Bull hocky!]
Knight said that beyond premises registration, USDA intends for the NAIS to include additional premises identification [what in the heck is "additional premises id"?]and animal tracking steps down the road. However, he stressed it would be up to producers to "decide their level of participation" in the NAIS ultimately. [Mr. Knight, I've already decided my level. None. I don't care how many pairs of vice grips you give me.]
He reminded Farm Bureau members that Australia and Canada already have animal tracking systems in place, [but did he inform them what a disaster Australia's system is? They reported 11 million phantom cattle in 2006] and he predicted that U.S. markets, including restaurants and retail outlets, will request more information from producers in the future. "We want U.S. producers to be competitive with the safest, most wholesome" product available anywhere, he said.
Knight said about 343,000 livestock premises, nearly a quarter of those nationwide, have enrolled in USDA's program. The goal is to register a majority of livestock premises by 2009.
A "big push" this year will be to get livestock producers who raise animals destined for human consumption to enroll their premises. This emphasis is more important now than enrolling smaller-scale producers and those individuals who keep a few horses or other animals for recreational purposes, Knight said. [I don't trust it, but having him feel the need to say it means that we are making a difference.]
Knight, a South Dakota native, said he understands the frustrations and concerns many farmers and ranchers have about the program because members of his own family raise livestock commercially. However, premises registration is free and easier than many producers believe, with not much more information requested than what they would use to place an ad in their local phone directory.
Knight urged livestock producers to review at www.usda.gov/nais for more information. [If you click through you might want to save what you find to your hard drive. USDA frequently moves things around or makes them disappear.]