The Obama Administration and Democratic majority in Congress were supposed to be more enlightened toward food safety and traceability than the Republicans.

What a disappointment.

Recently, a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee that handles budgeting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture cut all funding for the voluntary National Animal Identification System from the 2011 budget.

“We have spent over $147 million on this program since 2004; and six years later, we still have not seen a clear plan from USDA on successful implementation, even after they shifted to a more fragmented system in 2010,” said Subcommittee Chairman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

Earlier this year, the USDA pawned off administration of the program to the states and tribal nations, who were already strapped for cash. It was an indication that USDA had taken animal ID off the priority list.

Last August, while attending the ID Info Expo 2009, which featured many notable speakers on the subject, I became optimistic that the Obama Administration would make animal ID a priority.

Consider this comment from the conference:

“The Obama Administration wants to make capital out of protecting the food supply,” said David Acheson, former associate commissioner for foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who then went on to work in food and import safety at Leavitt Partners in Utah.

He said the FDA under Obama will step up food-safety enforcement, and there will probably be some requirement for food traceability.

It also became clear at the conference that the proponents of traceability had not done a good job of arguing the need for animal ID.

Acheson said that in order for the system to work, it needs buy-in from everyone in the food industry. If only a part of the industry participates, he said, “it’s not going to work.”

Under the Bush Administration, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns was adamantly opposed to a mandatory animal-ID system — and for a system to be truly effective, it would have to be mandatory.

I have been to many animal-ID meetings over the years and listened to a lot of speakers. The one who energized me the most (as to the need for a national animal-ID system) was Bob Hillman, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission. In October 2005, he talked about having to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and trying to pair misplaced cattle with their rightful owners. He also said Texas had had five different foreign animal diseases since 1999. Obviously, he had been on the firing line. “We cannot continue to debate the issue,” he said. “We need the animal-ID system, and we need it now.”

Well, almost five years later, things are really falling apart.

The Obama Administration is famously known for not letting a good crisis go to waste. Apparently, it will take a foreign animal disease emergency — a really big one — for people to see the need for animal ID.

Waiting for a crisis doesn’t seem very enlightened to me.