Animal Identification Plan Largely Misunderstood

by: Stephanie L. Church, News Editor

Comments collected on the draft U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) have been largely characterized by misunderstanding and frustration, according to one government official. The plan, which at this time is not an official program of the USDA, was designed to establish a timely traceback system to minimize the  the spread of foreign animal diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, and to minimize its detrimental effects.

The plan is being prepared by different livestock industries with government collaboration so that industry recommendations are taken into consideration as a national ID program is established. Hundreds of comments from the public have been received, with a significant percentage from the equine industry.

"There's a sense of misunderstanding as to what the USAIP is and isn't," said Neil Hammerschmidt, Animal ID coordinator for the USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service/Veterinary Services. "There was a lot of misinterpretation that this was a USDA's really an industry-developed plan championed by the industry. Explaining that has eased the minds of many people."

The identification program would apply first to livestock, such as cattle, as they enter commerce. An Equine ID Working Group, through the leadership of the American Horse Council is being organized to consider the ID priorities  for horses. This work group will propose a plan that the horse industry can support, including standards for the national program. Many horse owners expressed concern that horses wouldn't fit into the plan, since they are not a food animal. Hammerschmidt said, "That's why it's so important that the industry establish their working group and make that the top priority question that they address: Is there a justifiable need for equine ID, and make it very clear what the driving factor is if there is one."

Comments are still being accepted at the USAIP web site, Hammerschmidt said, "We had indicated that comments are open through Feb. 1, but that was a benchmark so the Steering Committee could collect, categorize, and appropriately summarize comments. Certainly there's no hard, fast point where they’re not going to accept comments, as the document itself is a work in progress, and the USAIP Steering Committee is receptive to ongoing feedback."

There's no speculation as to how soon the equine industry would be folded into a national ID program, but the urgency is more on the food animal side. "It's safe to say that cattle, swine, sheep, and so forth, are the priorities of the day," said Hammerschmidt.  It's fair to say that the USAIP wouldn't exist if these species groups and  their industry producer organizations hadn't taken this issue up and championed it themselves, and I'm hoping that's exactly what will happen on the equine side," said Hammerschmidt. "We look forward to the results of the equine working group."