USDA Takes New Approach to Animal Disease Traceability

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will develop a new, flexible framework for animal disease traceability in the country, and undertake several other actions to further strengthen its disease prevention and response capabilities.

“After concluding our listening tour on the National Animal Identification System in 15 cities across the country… I’ve decided to revise the prior policy and offer a new approach to animal disease traceability with changes that respond directly to the feedback we heard,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The framework, announced in early February, provides the basic tenets of an improved animal disease traceability capability in the country. USDA’s efforts will only apply to animals moved in interstate commerce, be administered by the states and tribal nations to provide more flexibility, encourage the use of lower-cost technology, and be implemented transparently through federal regulations and the full rulemaking process.

One of USDA’s first steps will be to convene a forum with state and tribal nation animal health leaders to discuss possible ways of achieving a flexible, coordinated approach to animal disease traceability. The department will also be revamping the secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health to address specific issues, such as confidentiality and liability.

Although USDA has a robust system in place to protect U.S. agriculture, this new approach will allow the department to take additional actions to further strengthen protections against the entry and spread of disease. These steps will include accelerating actions to lessen the risk from diseases posed by imported animals, initiating and updating analyses on how animal diseases travel into the country, improving response capabilities, and focusing on greater collaboration and analyses with states and industry on potential disease risk overall.

“We encourage USDA to work closely with producers in the development of the framework moving forward,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Steve Foglesong commented. “It’s important that the system is workable for producers, and accomplishes the goal of increased animal surveillance by enabling state and federal animal health officials to respond rapidly and effectively to animal health emergencies.”

USDA’s decision does not sit well with a former department leader.

Ron DeHaven, chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and former USDA secretary, said the move could seriously hinder U.S. veterinarians’ ability to track diseased animals and prevent those diseases. DeHaven said in an AVMA video that the move to a different system will mean no animal identification system will be in place during the new development period, which could take years. Also, as opposed to a national program, this new system will be administered by individual states and tribal nations, allowing each to use its own system of identification and possibly leading to incompatibility.

April 2010 RENDER | back