After spending more than $120 million on the nationwide National Animal Identification System (NAIS), the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) questions the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a new disease traceability system.

“If each state is allowed to develop and implement its own program, important questions arise concerning communication and coordination between the states and tribal nations,” points out Ron DeHaven, DVM, AVMA CEO and former administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

DeHaven has advocated for implementation of a strong mandatory traceback system. Last March he testified before the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry that full producer participation in NAIS could save millions of animals and billions of dollars by providing the ability to quickly contain and eradicate diseases.

To date only 36% or about 500,000 of U.S. livestock producers have participated in NAIS, according to USDA. The agency hosted public meetings in 2009 that indicated most participants were “highly critical” of the program.

“Some of the concerns and criticisms raised included confidentiality, liability, cost, privacy and religion,” USDA information states.

The cost of a new system has not been released, but USDA indicated it will work with existing disease control programs and allow identification means such as branding, metal tags and radio frequency identification tags. The agency will coordinate with states, tribal nations, industry and the public to set minimum standards that would promote the efficient movement of animals.

But DeHaven says the AVMA cannot endorse the new plan until more information is available. He notes its implementation is expected to take between 18 months and five years, and suggests the nation will be vulnerable during that time.

“Our lack of animal traceability for disease control and eradication purposes not only has huge economic implications, it can also increase animal suffering exponentially if we are not able to quickly contain a disease outbreak,” DeHaven says.