Animal ID bills rustled up

Lawmakers last week introduced bills to create a national animal identification program that would require livestock producers' participation. Both bills would allow only limited release of information collected under the program.

Meanwhile, a government and industry group that is working on standards for a national animal identification plan said today that the legislation is a bit premature.

The House bill (H.R. 3787) authorizes $175 million for a program that would ask farmers to attach identification tags to their animals so that each could be traced back to its original farm if later testing revealed disease.

A separate proposal in the Senate (S. 2070) authorizes the Agriculture Department secretary to set a plan in motion and earmarks $50 million for it this year. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) introduced that bill Feb. 12.

The Senate's proposal requires that a mandatory system be in place within 60 days after the law is enacted, and the House has a 90-day requirement. Congress has felt pressure to offer such legislation since the livestock industry discovered mad cow disease in the United States last December.

Support from the livestock industry for the proposed bills could be achieved by exempting information collected under the program from public disclosure through the Freedom of Information Act or by public officials except when authorized by Agriculture's secretary. One livestock industry representative told Federal Computer Week that producers do not want to disclose to the general public all locations in the country where animals are produced.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) introduced the House bill. In the Senate, Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) proposed similar legislation (S. 2008) last month.

More than 18 months before the mad cow disease scare, the Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service began working with livestock industry officials on standards for an animal identification plan.

Scott Stuart, co-chairman of the communication subcommittee for the National Identification Development Team, said the legislation may over-promise what is possible with any of the commercial tracking systems available on the market. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done just to identify and agree on the basic standards that would need to be in place to make any kind of a plan workable," Stuart said.

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