USDA on October 7, 2011 announced it is extending the deadline for public comments on its proposed rule for mandatory animal traceability, following a request by some livestock organizations for a deadline extension. The organizations had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack requesting an extension to allow sufficient time for the people who will be affected to analyze the rule and submit comments.
"We have significant concerns about the substance of the rule, and we appreciate USDA providing more time for public comment," says Judith McGeary, executive director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and vice-chair of the USDA Secretary's Advisory Committee on Animal Health. "Livestock farmers need additional time to provide comment about the impact this proposed rule will have."
While USDA already has traceability requirements as part of existing animal disease control programs, the proposed rule goes much further to require animal tracking even absent of clear and documented disease threats, she says. The proposed rule has raised significant concerns among family farm and ranch advocates, who accuse the agency of pushing a program to benefit corporate agribusiness interests rather than animal health.
Many livestock producers contend this goes beyond being an animal health program
"USDA keeps saying this is an animal health program, but it has failed to provide valid animal health reasons for it," says Bill Bullard, who heads R-CALF, a cattle producers advocacy group. "The real push for this program comes from the giant meat packing corporations who want international standards to help their export markets." Bullard suggests that meatpacking companies that wish to export meat should enhance the current voluntary programs that compensate farmers and ranchers for the extra paperwork and costs involved with complying.
The USDA draft rule greatly expands what animals must be identified, including young feeder cattle, which are processed at a young age and never enter the breeding herd. "While any animal can become sick, there is no evidence that tracking feeder cattle will do anything to address animal disease issues in this country," says McGeary. "To the contrary, requiring the large numbers of feeder cattle to be tagged and accompanied by paperwork could actually harm our ability to respond to animal diseases by swamping the system with unnecessary stacks of paper."
While expressing appreciation for the extension to the comment period, the groups continue to argue that USDA needs to reconsider the substance of the rule as well. "For the sake of all Americans, USDA should put the interests of family farmers ahead of the meatpacking lobby," says Mark Kastel, farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. He suggests livestock farmers take action and submit public comments to USDA as soon as possible.
New deadline for comments on livestock traceability rule is Dec. 9, 2011
Talking points and a sample letter prepared by the Cornucopia Institute can be found on the cornucopia site www.cornucopia.org. You can submit comments to USDA either online or by mail.
* BY MAIL: Docket No.APHIS–2009–0091
Regulatory Analysis and Development
PPD, APHIS, Station 3A–03.8
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You can read the USDA's proposed new rule at: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Proposed%20Rule.pdfYou can read the USDA's regulatory analysis, which includes its analysis of the costs of the program and the alleged benefits to the export market, at: www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability/downloads/2011/Regulatory%20Impact%20Analysis.pdf