The United States may need to consider mandatory farmer participation in a livestock trace-back system, but insight must first be gathered from opponents of the idea, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Friday.

“There is very serious dissatisfaction with the current system” among lawmakers who are convinced the voluntary process is not working as well as it should be, Vilsack said in an interview with Reuters.

“What I'm hoping to do is get a system, whether it's voluntary or mandatory... that works,” he said.

“It may very well be that you need a mandatory system, but in order for it to work you have to have people understand why you are doing it and understand that they have the opportunity to have their concerns voiced and listened to.”

Ultimately, he said, whatever path livestock-tracking takes, it must protect the country from market disruptions and homeland-security threats. It also must be supported by a majority of the people who are willing to comply with the system rather than find a way around it.

Some of Vilsack’s predecessors, such as Mike Johanns, were against the idea of government-imposed mandatory ID, saying it should be left up to market forces instead.

The current national animal-identification program is intended to track the home farm and herd-mates of sick animals within 48 hours of an animal-disease outbreak. Farmers are not obliged to participate in the program, which was embraced by USDA after the discovery of the first U.S. case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2003.

Some lawmakers have questioned the effectiveness of the program, which has consumed $128 million over five years to create a voluntary system.

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Source: Reuters