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Committee pulls funds for animal ID program

Decision debated: Ranch groups differ on fate of federal mandate.

By Steve Miller, Journal staff

Article from The Rapid City Journal

A key congressional subcommittee has stripped federal funding from efforts to establish a mandatory national animal identification system.

A spokesman for a major ranchers' group called the move a victory for livestock producers opposed to having a national animal ID system forced on them.

But another cattle group leader on Friday said stripping the funding could lead to a more onerous mandatory system.

On Thursday -- the same day that hundreds of ranchers gathered in Rapid City to give U.S. Department of Agriculture officials an earful about the proposed ID system -- the House Appropriations Committee's ag subcommittee pulled all funding from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that was meant to continue developing the system.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., backed removing the NAIS funding even though she has been a strong supporter of a mandatory ID system. DeLauro serves on both the House appropriations committee and its ag subcommittee.

"After receiving $142 million in funding since fiscal year 2004, APHIS has yet to put into operation an effective system that would provide needed animal health and livestock market benefits," DeLauro said in a news release. "USDA is currently conducting a public listening tour around the country for several months to hear from stakeholders. Until USDA finishes its listening sessions and provides details as to how it will implement an effective ID system, continued investments into the current NAIS are unwarranted."

Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA, a ranchers' advocacy group, acknowledged that DeLauro might not have changed her mind about NAIS.

"She's been an advocate for it, but this has been such a colossal failure that she recognizes that taxpayer should not be funding it with taxpayer money even further," Bullard said in a phone interview on Friday.

He said if the money isn't restored to the USDA budget for next year, it means the agency cannot continue to give tax dollars to organizations such as the American Angus Association, the Pork Producers Council, FFA and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to sign producers up under the program, which has been voluntary for the past few years.

"By removing that money from the 2010 fiscal budget, we would not see any more of those inappropriate incentives for trying to register more property under this flawed program," Bullard said.

But Todd Mortenson of Hayes, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association, said continued funding for NAIS is the last chance for a voluntary or at least limited ID program.

"If they strip the funding out, it doesn't mean the ID part is going away," Mortenson said. "The voluntary part is."

He said members of Congress will likely push harder for a stricter mandatory national ID program. "So basically it's our worst nightmare."

Mortenson said that is why his group has decided to support mandatory ID just for breeding stock, not the entire cattle herd. "We wanted to get something in place that we could all live with," he said.

Mortenson said he hoped the NAIS money will be restored.

Mortenson was one of only two speakers at Thursday's listening session in Rapid City who supported some form of mandatory animal ID.

Bullard was among those speaking against the national animal ID system.

The Rapid City session was not originally scheduled among the dozen or so sessions throughout the country but was added at the request of South Dakota's congressional delegation.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., all have expressed reservations about the proposed mandatory ID program.

Contact Steve Miller at 394-8415 or [email protected].

 

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