After months of wrangling, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that the national livestock identification (ID) program will stay permanently as a voluntary program.

Agriculture Undersecretary Bruce Knight says all of the debate over whether ID will become a mandatory program has only weakened efforts to meet self-imposed deadlines set by USDA.

The effort to eventually be able to track any animal to its source within 48 hours in case of a disease outbreak is on track, he assures.

The first program deadline is January 2007, when USDA is trying to get 25% of all livestock-producing premises registered in databases that the government could access during a disease outbreak.

To date, about 332,000 premises out of 1.4 million have been registered, meaning about 24% of sites have premises registered, nearly meeting the January goal.

To help promulgate a voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS), USDA has completed a Draft User Guide for NAIS and has requested comments.

The user guide provides valuable information on how producers can participate in the voluntary NAIS, the benefits of participation and how the system is being implemented. Comments are being accepted through Jan. 22, 2007.

Submit comments by e-mail to animalidcomments@aphis.usda.gov; please include “NAIS Draft User Guide” in the subject line. Mail comments to: NAIS Program Staff, Attn: NAIS Draft User Guide, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA, Unit 200, 4700 River Rd., Riverdale, MD 20737.