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Crisis for US beef traceback system

9/04/2009 12:43:00 PM

Article from

Pressure is growing again in the US for Congress to make a decision on the US national animal identification system (NAIS) - to make it mandatory or stop the funding for the current voluntary system.

Last week, House of Representatives agricultural appropriations subcommittee chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) told US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that the NAIS program needed changes - and soon.

During the annual hearing on the President's budget request to fund the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the coming fiscal year, DeLauro noted that for five years and "tens of millions of dollars, (the US voluntary NAIS) has not worked. We have to have a better way of dealing with this," she said.

DeLauro has long been an advocate of a mandatory program and has criticised the decision to make it voluntary.

At her first appropriations hearing with Vilsack, she put him on the spot, asking if he supports mandatory animal identification. DeLauro noted that her colleague, House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), already had said he does not favor spending more on the program "unless the Obama Administration supports a mandatory system."

Dodging the direct question, Vilsack said, "I am supportive of the effort for an identification system that will allow us to prevent or to mitigate problems."

He said he wants to "sit down with those who oppose the mandatory system in the very near term to work through whatever difficulties they have with the privacy or confidentially."

Vilsack expressed a desire "to structure a program that addressed those concerns."

Otherwise, he said, a mandatory system could fail because "you could have people spending a lot of time figuring out how to get around it."

To that, DeLauro said: "I'm going to suggest ... that for the last five years, there have been a lot of people figuring out how to get around a voluntary system.

"Why should we continue to appropriate money for a failed system?

"We have had ample time to do this, and this is nothing but a continuation of a dilatory tactic," she said.

As an example of the delays, DeLauro reminded Vilsack that USDA announced in March 2007 that it would conduct a cost-benefit study of a voluntary versus mandatory program.

"Two years later, aside from hearing rumors that it's completed, we're still waiting to learn of the results of this study," DeLauro said.

"Why are we throwing good money after bad with an industry that doesn't want to move?" she said.

Vilsack has again asked for an opportunity to meet with opponents of NAIS to see if their concerns could be addressed.

DeLauro says, "The clock is ticking. I don't know how long you're going to need to talk to these people, but it needs to be a very short conversation.

"Five years they've had to talk about it and $142 million, and we have zero to show for it."



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