Committee debates animal IDs

As Agriculture Department officials develop a nationwide animal identification system in response to the threat of mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases, no consensus has been reached about whether participation in the program should be mandatory, officials said at a House hearing this week.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) seeks to establish an animal information foundation to support animal disease control, eradication, and monitoring and surveillance programs, said John Clifford, deputy administrator of the USDA's animal and plant health inspection service, at a July 22 hearing of the House Agriculture Committee's Livestock and Horticulture Subcommittee.

Lawmakers focused on whether the animal tracking program should be mandatory until the system proved to be secure and effective.

"A voluntary system is necessary in this country to make sure the foundation is sound," said Clifford. Forcing cattle producers to participate in a program without an established infrastructure is not fair or reasonable, he said.

Many lawmakers disagreed.

"If we have a foot-and-mouth outbreak, everyone will be clamoring to figure out what went wrong," said subcommittee member Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Ala). "We'll all be sitting around saying 'I wish we would have done this.'"

NAIS has $18.8 million in funding from the USDA's Commodity Credit Corp., with an additional $33 million in the president's fiscal 2005 budget. The system's projected cost is $550 million during the next five years.

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