Agriculture spending authorization has now been dealt with by both chambers of Congress, and the National Animal Identification System has come out on the short end of the funding stick.

Last week, the Senate approved $124.5 billion in agriculture spending, only $7.3 million of which is slated for NAIS, half of what was expected. Last month, the House of Representatives ag appropriations committee slashed program funding to $0.

When asked for his perspective on the funding shortages, Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, said that House committee leaders felt that the current program is not leading to the traceability program they are looking for.

“They sent a message to USDA that the program has to lead to more meaningful results of it wants to receive more funding,” says Fourdraine. “On the Senate side, I think there are some similar issues. However, I think the reduction was more of a result of the recent listening sessions and vocal opposition.”

Fourdraine adds that the listening sessions featured many incorrect facts about animal ID and NAIS, while offering little in the way of constructive criticism to make the program more palatable.

“What has gotten lost is the progress that was made in certain parts of the industry,” he notes. For example, “We (WLIC) have been able to get 100,000 ID tags in Wisconsin dairy cattle in seven months. There are more dairies using radio-frequency ID tags than ever. This is mainly driven by all the management uses now available and the savings that can be obtained by using this technology.

“New cases of Bovine Tuberculosis that were found in 2008 and 2009 underscore the lack of our current disease traceability system to more rapidly and effectively deal with disease outbreaks, Fourdraine says. “Without a more effective disease traceability system that is tied to ongoing disease eradication efforts, producers will continue to experience the impacts of diseases like Bovine TB through increased testing expenses and limitations of moving livestock across state lines.”

As for the future of the program, “Everyone is waiting for Agriculture Secretary Vilsack to make some decisions and get those back to Congress,” he concludes.

I have long suspected that it will take a crisis for people to understand the true value of an animal-ID system in this country. But why does it take a crisis?

I remember a trip I made to the Netherlands in the early part of 2003. I got to talk to a dairy producer named Henk Los, who lived near an area affected by foot-and-mouth disease a few years earlier. Because of the animal-ID system in place at the time, Los went through the outbreak relatively unscathed, losing just one bulk tank of milk despite living 19 miles from a FMD-infected farm. The ID system gave authorities the confidence to keep the quarantine zone relatively tight, thus sparing Los’ farm. 

Maybe it’s the three FBI symposiums on agro-terrorism that I attended from 2005 to 2008, but I am worried that something could occur that will make us all wish we had an animal-ID system in place. — Thomas Quaife, editor