USDA bill provides $33.4M for animal ID

2006 Agrculture Department Appripriations Bill

Congress funded the Bush administration’s request of $33.4 million for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the 2006 Department of Agriculture appropriations bill passed last Thursday.

The bill also put tight restrictions on acquisition of new information technology systems by the department, requiring approval of its chief information officer and the concurrence of the Executive Information Technology Investment Review Board. Dave Coombs was named the Agriculture Department’s CIO last month, after serving as acting CIO since June 2004.

The bill also restricts Coombs from spending any money on ongoing projects without the prior approval of the Senate and House appropriations committees.

Although a key purpose of NAIS is to track cattle in case of an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or “mad cow disease,” which can also infect humans who eat beef from a BSE-infected cow, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) eventually plans to use the system to track all kinds of livestock, ranging from poultry to catfish.

Drafts of technical specifications for NAIS envision identifying livestock with ear tags using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, as well as retinal scans, with industry deciding the best approach.

In the summer the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) announced it had selected BearingPoint as a prime contractor to create a database to track the movements of all U.S. livestock. NCBA wants the system to be ready by January 2006, three years ahead of the 2009 deadline that the Agriculture Department set for its own system.

Last month APHIS held a meeting in Kansas City, Mo. with members of the livestock industry to discuss the development of a privatized animal movement-tracking database as part of the NAIS program.

John Clifford, APHIS deputy administrator for veterinary services, said at that time that the Agriculture Department "realizes that the move toward privatization of the animal tracking database is an important change in implementation of the NAIS and is anxious to receive comments from our stakeholders in order to make the process as successful as possible.”

On Nov. 9, APHIS said it plans to award $3 million in cooperative agreements to states and American Indian tribes that conduct research to develop or test potential solutions for animal identification and automated data collection in support of NAIS.

APHIS encouraged applicants to propose research or field trial projects to develop systems of test collection of animal identification data in typical production, market and abattoir environments, and to make an economic assessment of animal identification systems.

APHIS also wants the research projects to evaluate emerging animal identification technologies with advanced data collection systems to ascertain the adaptability of the technology for use in NAIS.

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