A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, requested and released today (Aug. 3) by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, found weaknesses in USDA’s plan to implement a national animal identification (ID) system.

The Democratic senator asked GAO to examine USDA’s animal ID plan in November 2005 following concerns that USDA failed to effectively implement the system and didn’t inform producers and livestock market operators of the actual cost of the program.

Harkin is chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced in December 2003 that it would implement a nationwide ID system in response to concerns about animal disease outbreaks. The plan, later named the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), aimed to help producers and animal health officials respond efficiently to animal disease outbreaks in the United States.

“Animal diseases are a constant and very real threat to the livestock and poultry industries, since an outbreak could wreak havoc for trade and our domestic markets. Yet, USDA has taken a slow, indecisive and confusing adoption of the animal ID system,” Harkin remarks.

“This GAO audit confirms the concerns producers and livestock market operators had about USDA’s animal ID plan for some time now. I strongly urge USDA to implement GAO’s recommendations without delay and make it clear to producers what is expected of them and how they envision this system working,” he says.

The GAO listed the following concerns:

  • USDA lacks a comprehensive cost estimate or cost-benefit analysis for the implementation and maintenance of the animal ID system. In response to GAO’s concerns, USDA has contracted for a cost estimate of the program.
  • USDA has not prioritized the implementation of the animal ID system according to economic value of the species most at risk.
  • USDA has not developed a plan to integrate the animal ID system with existing animal disease eradication programs for hogs, cattle, sheep or goats, thus duplicating effort and cost to producers.
  • USDA has awarded 169 animal ID cooperative agreements totaling $35 million, but has failed to adequately monitor the agreements or determine if intended outcomes were achieved. USDA has also not consistently shared results of the agreements with states and industry stakeholders.
  • USDA has not designated the timeframe for effective animal disease traceback.
  • USDA has not required certain critical information needed for adequate traceback of animals from their farm of origin including type of animal species, date of birth or age of animals.
  • USDA has no benchmarks to determine if there is sufficient participation to achieve an effective animal ID system; and
  • USDA has not independently tested animal ID or tracking devices, deterring producers and others from investing in such devices.
GAO’s report, “USDA Needs to Resolve Several Key Implementation Issues to Achieve Rapid and Effective Disease Traceback,” (GAO-07-592) will be available on the GAO Web site at www.gao.gov.