Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.
Dairy’s ‘Go It Alone’ Animal ID
Jan 15, 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.