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U.S. Cattlemen’s Association Delivers Constructive Criticism Of NAIS

Article from Cattle Network

USCA (April 16, 2009) - At the invitation of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) participated in a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) round table held in Washington, DC on April 15.  The discussion included a wide mix of industry representatives.

Chuck Kiker, USCA Region V Director and Chairman of the USCA Animal Health Committee delivered constructive criticism of the current NAIS system, suggesting that the agency re-examine several aspects of the program and provide clarity for cattle producers.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association opposes mandatory participation in NAIS. 

In a five minute oral testimony Kiker addressed USCA’s concerns with NAIS, including USDA’s failure to address privacy and confidentiality concerns; provide clarity for the  future of NAIS; produce a credible legal analysis substantiating USDA’s insistence that NAIS is not binding to property and does not harm producers’ property rights; as well as focusing on enhancement of animal disease controls at U.S. borders.  Following are excerpts from Kiker’s testimony. 

“U.S. cattle producers understand the need for an effective animal health trace back system and the risks associated with animal disease outbreaks,” Kiker told the group.  “We understand the economic and social consequences of a domestic animal disease crisis in the U.S.  Our steadfast opposition to several components of the NAIS proposal should send a strong message to decision-makers that we aren’t happy with several  fundamentals of the proposed system.

“Many unanswered questions remain, notably producers do not have an understanding of what the costs will be and who will pay,” continued Kiker.  “We have confirmed that USDA has contracted for a cost-benefit analysis with a major university and that this study has been completed.  USCA hopes that the agency will release this study. 

“Nearly all segments of the beef industry are already financially strapped.  Cattle producers are price-takers, not price-makers.  We compete in international markets with third world countries. The result is that we’re forced to be the lowest cost producer.  Our competitive edge is regularly compromised by government regulations and bureaucracy. An excellent example are the unfounded trade restrictions on U.S. beef exports as a result of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and the lowering of import standards on beef coming into the U.S. from Canada.

“The extreme lack of producer confidence in USDA surrounding NAIS is a hurdle that is becoming more and more difficult for the agency to overcome.  Until USDA restores that confidence, producers aren’t going to buy into a voluntary program and, likewise, that lack of stakeholder confidence and support will be the demise of any effort to implement a mandatory system,” warned Kiker.

“The original NAIS introduced to producers was a Cadillac, pie-in-the-sky system with all the bells and whistles.  It was going to be privatized and groups began divvying up the different components of NAIS and counting the profits they were going to reap.  The use of RFID tags and the infrastructure needed to support them at every point of sale or movement was overwhelming.  Where are we now, and is that still the same end goal,” Kiker asked. 

“Ranchers have repeatedly voiced their concerns over assigning premises numbers to property and what affect that may have on their property rights.  We’ve asked repeatedly for clarification about leased land and the effect of the premises registration component on tenants versus land owners.  Those questions remain unanswered.” 

“After years of development and millions of dollars invested, we still do not have the clarity we need to make sound decisions about how this program will affect our businesses. Producers are hopeful that this round table and the ensuing public listening sessions across the country are an indicator that USDA is taking a fresh approach to this problematic program.  The key will be whether you take appropriate action based on what you hear.  Anything less will be a futile exercise.

Kiker was encouraged by the comments made by Secretary Vilsack and his commitment to address this issue.

 “It was encouraging that a cost benefit analysis has been done and will likely be released later this month,” Kiker added.  “Hopefully, the new Administration will focus on producer-driven solutions and will work to update and standardize existing animal tracking systems.  USDA needs to continually work with state animal health officials to focus on mitigating and eradicating animal diseases.  This roundtable was an important opportunity to get issues on the table for discussion and USCA is grateful for the invitation to participate.  We look forward to working with Secretary Vilsack and his staff on the matter.

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