GUEST editorial

Opinion
May 8, 2009
by WLJ

GUEST editorialNAIS input requested

Members of the Agriculture Family

The United States has an incredibly prosperous agricultural industry. Our livestock and poultry are among the healthiest in the world. However, even with all the preventative measures USDA already has in place, animal disease can still strike. A disease event can have far-reaching consequences, impacting more than just farmers with sick animals. A disease event also affects other farmers and the livestock industry through movement and international trade restrictions. Not only do the farmers’ communities feel the economic pinch, but so does the entire country.

In these times of economic uncertainty, we must do everything in our power to help ensure that any animal disease events that do happen are contained effectively so things can go back to business as usual—as quickly as possible.

The best way to do this is through animal disease traceability. While there are costs associated with a traceability system, these costs are far less than the costs of dealing with a major disease outbreak like foot-and-mouth disease without the tools animal health officials need. The U.S. already has a program for animal disease traceability, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). As the program stands now, around 35 percent of the country’s farmers are participating.

Much work has been done over the past five years to engage farmers in developing a national system they could support. However, many of the original concerns that were raised—such as cost, impact on small farmers, privacy/ confidentiality and liability—continue to cause debate. In order to provide the level of animal disease traceability we need in the U.S., changes must be made that will increase the level of participation in NAIS. Today, I am asking farmers and stakeholders to engage with USDA in a more productive dialogue about NAIS. Now is the time to have frank and open conversations. We need to work collaboratively to resolve concerns and move forward with animal disease traceability. The dialogue brings two goals to mind: 1) sharing accurate information about the current program, and 2) discussing how to work together to resolve or reduce issues of concern while creating a system which farmers can support.

The main issues of concern are well documented, so I am specifically seeking your ideas or suggestions on how to resolve these concerns, as well as any new concerns you have. To facilitate the dialogue, USDA has launched a feedback page on the NAIS Web site. Producers and stakeholders are encouraged to visit www.usda.gov/nais/feedback.shtml to provide their suggestions and comments. We are also in the process of scheduling a series of public dialogue sessions throughout the country. We will keep you updated as details for the sessions are finalized.

I encourage your participation in this process. The information and ideas you provide will assist me in making decisions about the future direction of animal disease traceability in the United States. It is my goal that we develop a workable way to address the country’s existing traceability gaps BEFORE an animal disease event occurs.

Sincerely, Tom Vilsack Secretary of Agriculture

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