Cattle industry rides herd on animal ID

The cattle industry is taking the issue of national animal identification by the horns by promising a working system three years ahead of the federal government’s deadline.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) announced yesterday that it has chosen BearingPoint as a prime contractor to create a database to track the movements of all U.S. livestock.

NCBA wants the system to be in place by January 2006, three years ahead of the 2009 deadline that the Agriculture Department set for its own system, said Mike John, NCBA’s president elect and chairman of the organization’s Animal Identification Commission.

The system will ultimately track all farm animals, including pigs, poultry, sheep, bison and horses, John said. A consortium of producers of different animals will oversee the database and its management, he said.

The beef industry is pushing for faster implementation of a tracking system to improve profitability and the ability to trace the trail of disease outbreaks, John said.

Cattle owners are also clamoring for the database to be run by the private sector and not the government, John said. They are afraid that the government can’t protect data, he said. One private-sector system would also eliminate the need for a federal system and 50 state systems, he said.

Members of Congress and USDA Secretary Mike Johanns support the idea, John said.

The cattle industry is leading the effort because of all major livestock animals, cattle have the highest per-animal cost and are currently tracked the least, John said. “If we do cattle first, the rest will be easier,” he said.

Even though the system is scheduled to go live in January 2006, it will take a while to get all participants prepared to use it, John said. “You can’t just turn a switch on and have the whole industry on an animal ID system,” he said.

Five months is a reasonable deadline because BearingPoint is using commercial software to collect data from existing databases, said Geoff Harkness, managing director of BearingPoint’s Public Services Group.

NCBA still needs to finalize a contract with BearingPoint, including how much the program will cost, John said.


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