Citing an increasing threat of foreign animal disease, the National Pork Producers Council (NPCC) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support a mandatory National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Under a national ID system, animal health officials can trace diseased or exposed animals to their farm of origin within 48 hours, enhancing control and disease eradication.

The key part to an animal ID system is registration of premises, which requires the collection of data including the physical location of an operation, telephone number and contact information.

NPPC’s letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack notes that USDA has struggled since 2004 to implement a viable NAIS that serves the needs of animal agriculture. The letter stated USDA has wavered regarding whether the program should be mandatory or voluntary, been hampered by inadequate funding and opposed by extremist groups that don’t comprehend the importance of premises identification and pre-harvest traceability for disease management.

“The U.S. livestock industry is increasingly vulnerable to foreign animal disease because of the potential spread through increased international travel and trade,” NPPC said in its letter. “Even more frightening is the threat of deliberate introduction of disease by terrorists.”

Should trading partners close their markets to U.S. meat exports, the loss to the pork industry alone could reach billions of dollars, according to NPPC. In 2008, U.S. pork exports totaled nearly $5 billion.

The U.S. swine industry has long supported a mandatory NAIS for animal agriculture, and has called on pork packers to require premises identification numbers as a condition of sale. In the last three years, NPPC and the National Pork Board have worked with USDA to implement a swine ID system and have registered more than 80% of the approximately 67,300 swine premises.

“The NAIS is critical to protecting our national swine herd and, thus, our domestic and international markets,” remarks NPPC President Bryan Black, a pork producer from Canal Winchester, OH. “Without such a system, the increased cost to USDA and animal agriculture in the event of a foreign animal disease will be staggering.”

For more information on animal ID, go to www.pork.org.