Overview

Described over the next five pages is a survey of consumer impressions about livestock identification (ID) and its value in boosting public confidence in the safety and security of the U.S. meat supply. Wisconsin pork industry leaders expressed concerns over cost, confidentiality and liability issues in USDA's plan for mandatory livestock ID. The threat of foreign animal diseases topped the list of concerns in comments submitted on the ID proposal by the National Pork Board and the Pork Industry Working Group.

Identification Plan Would Boost Public Confidence

U.S. consumers will become even more confident in the safety and security of the nation's meat and poultry supply with adoption of a mandatory National Animal Identification System.

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) plan, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (www.usda.gov/nais), would provide traceback capabilities to the farm of origin in 48 hours to target and isolate a disease outbreak.

Global Animal Management Inc. (GAM), a leading provider of animal and premises identification systems, sponsored a survey that polled consumers. GAM is a wholly owned subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corp.

Survey Results

One thousand consumers were surveyed in mid-May. They expressed confidence in the U.S. food supply, but survey respondents indicated their confidence levels would rise even higher with the introduction of NAIS.

More than 37% of respondents indicated their current meat safety confidence is high — at least 8 on a 10-point scale (1=not confident and 10=very confident). Ten percent rated their confidence as low (1-3). Overall, consumer confidence in the meat supply averaged 6.5.

With implementation of NAIS, average consumer confidence in the meat supply would climb to 7.4. Almost 55% of those polled indicated confidence would then be high (8-10), and under 4% said confidence would remain low (1-3).

“We are glad to know that consumers feel good about the integrity of the meat and poultry supply — as they should,” says Jim Heinle, GAM president. “The industry has worked hard to protect animal health and provide safe products. This survey shows that the ability to trace livestock diseases through a national identification system may be a tool to raise consumer confidence even further.”

Mandatory System Boosts Confidence

The survey points to added consumer confidence if participation is mandatory rather than voluntary. On the 10-point scale, average consumer confidence was 7.5 under a mandatory system, vs. 5.8 for a voluntary program. Also, 58% of consumers polled said they would be highly confident (8-10) if NAIS is required, compared with only 28.1% who said they would feel confident if the program is optional.

“Consumers are already confident in the U.S. meat supply, and an additional step that is mandatory will increase their confidence,” notes John Lawrence, agricultural economist with Iowa State University. “This research showed that confidence in the current system and NAIS seemed to increase with age, education and income.”

Respondents also expressed confidence that NAIS will provide farmers and ranchers the information necessary to protect livestock and poultry from animal diseases; 42% would be highly confident and only 5.6% would have low confidence.

As a disease management tool, the program does not require NAIS identification numbers on meat products in stores. However, retailers or suppliers might partner with producers to provide traceback information voluntarily.

When consumers were asked if they would prefer to buy identified meat products that were tracked by NAIS or buy products that weren't, the majority (55.6%) said they would choose the “identified” product, provided the price wasn't too much higher. Only 13.2% said they would buy the “identified” product regardless of price; 12% indicated they would continue to buy the lowest-priced product.

“There is an indication that consumers may pay a modest amount more for traceability,” says Lawrence. “This is consistent with other research. They like what they have but will take more at little or no cost.”

Heinle adds: “It is extremely difficult to predict what impact NAIS implementation will have on consumer behavior, since many factors enter into food purchase decisions. A proactive approach like NAIS certainly will help maintain the consuming public's vote of confidence, by strengthening both the reality and perception that our meat supply is among the safest in the world.”

As of late July, USDA had registered and assigned unique premises identification numbers to 89,138 farms and ranches. Of that total, more than 25% were registered using the Global Animal Management Premises Management System. This USDA-approved system integrates seamlessly with the GAM VeriSource system to track movements of livestock and manage data.

Information on VeriSource is available at www.mygamonline.com. Demonstrations of the system and other tools for traceability can be arranged by contacting Global Animal Management at (800) 235-9824.

ID Plan Draws Flood of Concerns

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a draft and asked for reactions to its National Animal Identification System (NAIS) proposal.

The USDA received a flurry of comments on the April 25 publication of NAIS all the way up to the July 6 deadline. Many industry groups offered ringing endorsements, but pressed USDA to push for an earlier date to implement mandatory livestock identification (ID). The scheduled date is January 2009 (see sidebar).

A number of other groups favored the NAIS plan, but only if it remained voluntary until cost, confidentiality and liability concerns were resolved.

The nearly 600 comments came from all walks of agriculture, from Old Order Amish farmers to representatives of alpacas, bison, fish, goat, cattle, sheep, poultry and hogs.

Producers Respond

The only individual pork producer comments were those from Wisconsin Pork Producers Association President Lynn Harrison of Elk Mound, WI, and Mike Wehler of Plain, WI, director of Member Services.

In their comments, the producers stressed it will be necessary to ensure there is broad industry support for the ID program before a mandatory system is imposed. They suggested that species advisory groups may need to be identified to gain and keep producer support.

“We suggest a voluntary trial period that demonstrates how the program can meet its goals for each of the species. One program will not fit all!” they wrote.

“The program should become mandatory when the species advisory committees recommend and support the mandatory phase of the program and the appropriate USDA agencies have sufficient funding for the mandatory program,” the Wisconsin producers added.

Also, the program for pork producers should be simple and costs minimized, they said. Tracking should be required only when the premise registration number (required for pork producers) is not effective in identifying the movement of animals.

A recurring theme in many statements was that program costs should be borne primarily by the public.

“It is the public that our government is trying to protect with a mandatory program,” pointed out Harrison and Wehler. “The effort and time required by producers should be their contribution to the cost of the program.”

Tracking animal movement should be the responsibility of the livestock buyer, they said.

Any database established for this program needs to remain confidential and not be shared with other databases, they stressed.

In addition, the public should not be able to use the Freedom of Information Act to access information about livestock producers.

The NAIS program is intended solely for animal identification and tracking. “Producers should not be subjected to liability related to food safety issues related to this program,” they emphasized.

South Dakota Farm Bureau Remarks

Cost, confidentiality and liability are also the main concerns echoed by South Dakota Farm Bureau Administrative Director Michael Held.

Costs of an ID program should be borne by the public through federal government funding.

“Cost estimates indicate a possible price of as much as $100 million annually,” said Held. “This is too expensive for livestock producers to bear, and since this is in the economic interest of the nation, adequate and ongoing funding must be made available as the system evolves.”

Confidentiality needs to be supported by legislation to ensure privacy of the data that livestock producers provide, said Held. Clarification needs to be provided as to which state and federal agencies have access to the data, said Held.

An effective traceback system should protect producers from liability as the animal passes on to the next party in the production, processing and merchandising system.

Outlining Animal ID Program Basics

Animal health officials have used livestock identification (ID) for years to help trace animals so that diseases could be eradicated.

Prime examples include scrapie eradication for sheep and pseudorabies eradication for swine, says David Miller, director, Research and Commodity Services, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Having had premises (group or lot) ID programs for years, implementing the NAIS for these species will mainly be a matter of how ID is carried forward from production through processing, he says.

The goal of the ID program is to be able to identify all animals and premises that have had contact with a foreign or domestic animal disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery.

This is to be accomplished using premises registration, animal ID and animal tracking. Each premises will be identified with a unique seven-character identifier, or a premises identification number. As animals move from site to site, they will be identified either individually with a unique, Animal Identification Number (AIN) or if handled as a group, with a Group/Lot Identification Number.

Animals will be tracked using individual or group lot ID numbers; those numbers will be kept in a national animal records database.

ID Program Takes Shape

The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) took shape in April 2002 when the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) formed a task force to create an ID plan.

A final report was presented to industry later that year. In 2003, the U.S. Animal Identification Plan was drafted and later expanded from food animals to include other species such as alpacas, llamas and horses.

NAIS' development has been expedited by USDA since the first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) struck the United States in late December 2003.

USDA's timeline for NAIS is as follows:

July 2005: All states operational for premises registration;

August 2005: Animal Identification Number system operational;

Summer 2005: USDA will consider all remarks from the listening sessions and written comments on the draft ID plan in drafting a proposed rule. This rule would establish new regulations for requiring premises to be registered and for animals to be identified and tracked based on NAIS standards.

July 2006: USDA will publish a proposed rule with new requirements for premises registration and animal ID.

Fall 2007: USDA will publish the final rule establishing mandatory animal ID and premises registration requirements.

January 2008: Final rule on premises registration and animal ID become effective; and

January 2009: Mandatory animal ID including the animal movement/tracking provision becomes effective.

Details on the animal ID program can be found by viewing www.usda.gov/nais or by contacting Neil Hammerschmidt, USDA Animal Identification Officer, Eradication and Surveillance Team, National Center for Animal Health Programs, 4700 River Road Unit 43, Riverdale, MD 20737-1231; (301) 734-5571.

Pork Officials Respond to USDA Plan

Foreign animal diseases highlight livestock identification concerns.

Concern over the devastation from foreign animal diseases (FAD) tops the list of issues covered in pork industry comments to the Agriculture Department's proposed plan for mandatory livestock identification (ID).

USDA has proposed that all premises registration be completed by January 2008 and mandatory ID be in place by January 2009.

But the Pork Industry Identification Working Group (PIIWG) commented that it is imperative to speed up implementation of the ID rule to enable rapid response and containment in the event an FAD is discovered.

“Assuming that confidentiality concerns are resolved, the PIIWG supports an aggressive timeline in order to protect the national herd from the devastation of a disease crisis. The PIIWG would like to see all premises registered by 2007 and a mandatory animal ID system by 2008.”

In its comments on the ID plan, the National Pork Board Swine Health Committee identified FAD control as a priority.

“Foot-and-mouth disease can infect all cloven-hoofed animals. Because of this, effective and mandatory ID of all premises of all relevant species is essential to enable animal health officials to rapidly track and contain foreign animal disease should it be introduced into the country,” explains Paul Sundberg, DVM, Pork Board vice president for science and technology.

Sundberg also stresses the importance of USDA allocating adequate resources for livestock premises ID and mandatory animal ID.

So far, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has received about $33 million for National Animal Identification System (NAIS) implementation in fiscal year 2005 through the Consolidated Appropriations Act. USDA also transferred $18.8 million from its Commodity Credit Corp. to APHIS in fiscal year 2004 to support the program.

Group Formed to Address ID

The Pork Board has been one of the participants of the PIIWG, which was formed under the direction of USDA's National Identification Steering Committee.

The PIIWG includes numerous producer and allied industry groups that prepared comments on the national ID plan, says PIIWG chairperson Robyn Fleck, DVM, director of swine health programs for the Pork Board.

Summing up the group's comments she said: “We supported mandatory registration of premises, and maintenance movement records provided that confidentiality issues are resolved. We also support ID of swine based on movement-specific rather than age-specific requirements.

“The group proposed that the majority of movement information should be maintained as on-farm business records, and reporting should only be required for interstate movement because we already have that requirement in the Code of Federal Regulations,” says Fleck.

The USDA proposal refers to the use of eartags and tagging devices to identify animals. Fleck says the proposal should be flexible in the type of ID technology permitted. The sheep and horse working groups, for example, would like alternatives to standard eartags. And for pigs that move as lots, group ID using either documentation, like a passport, or tattoos would work.

The PIIWG recommends that animals requiring approved identification devices be identified before shipment from the source premises. Groups or lots of animals requiring group/lot identification may not leave their source premises without documentation of either a valid premises ID number or the group/lot identifier.

“Pork producers routinely record production information including animal movements,” adds Sundberg. “These records include animal ID and could be used by animal health officials to support the goal of a 48-hour traceback in the event of an animal health emergency.”

A Certificate of Veterinary Inspection or Interstate Movement Report is currently required for all interstate movement of hogs, says Sundberg. “This system is effective in providing a way to record and track animal movements. Converting the interstate movement reporting system to one of electronic recording and transfer would enable its use for animal health tracking purposes without unnecessary intrusion into the daily responsibilities of pork producers.

“Electronic recording and transfer would also support accessing the data in a timely fashion and assist in the 48-hour traceback goal,” he says.

How to handle ID for intrastate movement of animals is another area to be addressed, says Sundberg. Currently, intrastate movement recording and reporting is handled at the state level. Sundberg calls for additional research to better understand the impact of having a mandatory intrastate movement system.

Program compliance should be audited and enforced by animal health officials by personal visits to official identification application sites or by communication with such sites, the PIIWG said in its comments.

For private sales or movement of animals not going through a sales barn or market, the PIIWG advised site visits of a statistically valid percentage of premises. “State and federal animal health officials must have the flexibility to examine farm or market records in a targeted fashion, rather than in a random fashion.”

Action Needed

What's needed right now is for all pork producers to get their premises registered to become part of the ID program, says Sundberg.

Sign up information is on the National Pork Producers Council Web site, http://www.nppc.org/hot_topics/premidstatesites2.html.

Sundberg concludes: “The mandatory ID program is going to come. For our part, we want something that is affordable and effective that can be implemented in a timely manner.”