Agriculture Department envisions mandatory livestock ID by 2009

US - The government wants the ability to trace the movements of cows, pigs and chickens from birth to the dinner table. Wary cattle ranchers want to protect their records.

The Agriculture Department on Thursday proposed a nationwide tracking system that would pinpoint an animal's movements within 48 hours after a disease is discovered. The system of registering and reporting on livestock would be voluntary at first but then mandatory for all by January 2009.

Those who raise and feed cattle "guard very jealously" information about their herds, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

"We want to make sure that consumers always have good information, but we also recognize that there are some privacy type issues here, some confidentiality issues that we also need to pay attention to," Johanns said.

The Agriculture Department promised to hustle a nationwide animal identification system into place after the discovery of mad cow disease in a Washington state dairy cow 18 months ago. Investigators never located all 80 of the cattle that crossed the Canadian border with the infected animal.

At "listening sessions" the department held across the country, confidentiality concerns dominated the talk.

"I don't think producers are going to want to go to some Web site and read all about their own operations," said National Farmers Union lobbyist Tom Buis. "That's been a very big concern from day one."

Jay Truitt, lobbyist for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said producers "don't believe the government can truly protect what will turn out to be confidential business information associated with an animal's records."

Efforts to keep documents confidential are an important part of the proposal, which seeks to exclude records from the federal Freedom of Information Act, Agriculture Department chief economist Keith Collins said.

calendar icon 6 May 2005
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