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RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

Dairy’s ‘Go It Alone’ Animal ID

Jan 16, 2012

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has had it with the beef industry’s infighting over national animal identification.

Last month, NMPF sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging USDA to move forward with a national program, even if it means enacting dairy specific requirements. Reading between the lines, the letter seethes with frustration.
Last week, I asked Jamie Jonker, NMPF V.P. of scientific and regulatory affairs, about that sense of futility. "National Milk and our member producers have a desire to move animal ID forward, and right now we’re lumped together with the beef side," he says. "Dairy and beef have different production systems, and USDA needs to consider rules that are not necessarily the same for both. That’s a long way of saying that, yes, we are frustrated."
But could a dual-track system work? Jonker believes it would be better than what the country has now. "Dairy would be much better prepared having one than not having one," he says. "There is an advantage to having all bovines (beef and dairy) in one system, but that’s not likely to happen in the near future."
The problem, of course, is that foot and mouth disease (FMD) doesn’t discriminate between a dairy milk cow and beef mama cow. Once it strikes, commerce will shut down. Sale barns will be quarantined, cattle movements will be cease, even milk trucks will be taken off the roads while USDA tries to track the disease.
If you think this can’t happen, simply look to England. When it had its FMD crisis, some dairy producers were quarantined to their farms for months as animal health officials tried to sort out the mess. It was ugly. Opponents to national ID are clueless to the carnage that will ensue.
NMPF is also on record calling for a national data base and registry, where health officials can go to a single source to expedite traceback. This is, of course, opposed by some, citing data privacy concerns. Again, that opposition is terribly short-sighted.
The current USDA proposal calls for each state, territory and tribal nation to set up a database within its own border. At best, this will be cumbersome as USDA officials try to trace animal movements across multiple state borders. At worst, it might require dairy producers with farms in several states to have multiple animal ID systems. This only adds cost and confusion to the system.
At the very least, state systems must be uniform and compatible. But NMPF is right in its call for a national, centralized database. "NMPF recommends that USDA exercise Federal Preemption to a provide a far more beneficial national system with all State, Tribal and Territorial governments utilizing a central system," Jonker wrote to Vilsack. I agree.
Finally, when I posted a story on NMPF’s letter to USDA, one reader asked: "What’s the ROI for producers?" The easy answer is that a national animal ID program ups the chances that you’ll be able to remain in business should an FMD incident occur. Make no mistake. If one should occur, the short and long term consequences will be severe.
Not only will commerce cease for days, perhaps weeks, in the short term, export markets will also close. The dairy industry in now exporting 13% of its production overseas. An instant closure of those markets will make 2009 look like a mild recession. And it will take years to recover from such a blow.
National animal ID is a collective insurance policy for the industry, says Jonker. "It’s like fire insurance that provides overall protection for a catastrophic disease outbreak," he says.
RFID tags are pretty reasonably priced, from $1.80 to $2.20/tag. "Over the five-year lifetime of the average dairy cow, that’s just 35¢ to 40¢ per animal per year. That’s a pretty low insurance cost," he says.
In fact, it’s pretty much a no-brainer. If opponents to national ID would exert just 10% of the effort they’ve put into opposing such a system into figuring out what can work for the beef industry, we would have had such a system five years ago. Instead, USDA is still trying to wind its way through the politics. How frustrating.
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COMMENTS (3 Comments)

Vaquero - St. Johns, AZ
There are two problems with Mr. Dickrell's analysis as he attempts to use FMD as the bogey man to justify animal ID.

First, how will FMD be introduced? USDA has acknowledged that it will most likely be from a foreign source. I would hasten to add that the relocation of the Plum Island research center to Manhattan, Kansas, is another possibility, similar to what happened recently at the UK's facility in Surrey.

It follows, therefore, that rather than spewing forth polemics toward beef producers, Mr. Dickrell should train his guns on USDA, its open borders policy as well as its support for the relocation of the Plum Island center if he is truly interested in preventing FMD. Interdiction of disease, not animal ID, is the best defense.

Secondly, Mr. Dickrell never bothers to adduce evidence as to the role animal ID played in the UK during its FMD outbreak nor how animal ID saved the day in Korea and its FMD battle.

There is a reason: there is not a scintilla of evidence as to the benefit of animal ID when combatting FMD. Hyperbolic assertions do not overcome the absence of facts.

Mr. Dickrell may wish to peruse the Canadian Veterinarian Journal, Vol. 50, January, 2009, and its 60-page report on the containment of England's 2001 FMD outbreak. There is absolutely no mention of any role or benefit derived from the UK's ID system.

As to Mr. Dickrell's suggestion that dairy go it alone, this is one rancher who says go for it! I'm personally tired of testing my cattle in New Mexico to bring them back into Arizona due to TB outbreaks in dairies some 200 miles from my ranch. Dairy and beef should be treated differently: dairy is a much higher disease risk due to the nature of the operation. They can and should be treated differently--including the contentious issue of animal ID.
4:23 PM Jan 16th
Fox Ranch - SD
Mr. Jonkers is using the FMD myth to scare people into animal id. If we ever have, God forbid, an outbreak of FMD in this country it will be all over the nation before we will know because of the speed in which livestock move in commerce. For example livestock can move from north to south or east to west across this nation in 48 hours or less. The incubation period for FMD is 2-14 days and 3 days to confirm whether it is FMD or not. This disease is highly contagious and can travel on the wind for up to 60 miles mean while contaminating every animal it comes in contact with such as willd deer,elk, bison, domestic cattle and sheep. Fur bearing animals also spread the disease to cloven hoofed animals . Thus FMD would be all over the nation before a tag would be read. Tagging animals is not the way to combat FMD. Keeping the disease out of the country is the key to prevention of this disease. If FMD ever enters the United States we are going to be put under strict quarantine, all exports will be shut down, and livestock and wildlife will be put down whether we have an id system or not.


Kenny Fox
SD Beef Catle Producer
1:20 PM Jan 16th


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