American Horse Council Washington Update  Feb. 2004

 

Federal Legislation Introduced on Animal Identification System

 

For over a decade, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and livestock and animal health organizations have been debating the issues surrounding the institution of a national animal identification system for animals to address health emergencies.  The ability to trace animals quickly in the event of a major disease outbreak is vital to ensuring the continued operation and viability of the animal agriculture industry, including the horse industry.

 

These discussions have resulted in the US Animal Identification Plan (USAIP), a proposal that lays out a structure for the implementation of a system that could enable the US to trace individual animals within 48 hours of a disease outbreak.  Although the plan currently focuses on cattle, swine and poultry, it includes a section, presently blank, that references the horse industry.

 

The AHC has been monitoring the development of the USAIP for some time and has organized a task force to determine if the horse industry can develop standards for equine identification that would benefit the industry in case of a disease outbreak and be compatible with the USAIP should it become mandatory.

 

The fallout from the December diagnosis of “mad cow” disease in a dairy cow in the US has focused more public attention on the effort to establish a national livestock identification system and has prompted the introduction of federal legislation to accomplish that goal.  The bills apply to all livestock, including horses.  Whether such legislation will pass Congress remains to be seen, particularly since USDA and the livestock industry have made substantial moves toward a national animal identification and reporting system. 

 

National Farm Animal Identification Records Act or FAIR Act

 

Two bills have been introduced called the National Farm Animal Identification Records Act or FAIR Act.

 

The Senate bill (S. 2008) was introduced by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  The House bill (H.R. 3787) was introduced by Congressman Colin Peterson (D-MN), along with ten other Representatives.  Both bills direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a nationwide electronic livestock identification system that will enable USDA to trace an individual animal within 48 hours of a disease outbreak.

 

The Senate bill authorizes $50 million to set up the system; the House bill authorizes $175 million.

 

In introducing the legislation, the sponsors recognized that USDA’s current plans call for individual animal identification by mid-2006, but said that this timetable “must be moved up.”  The legislation would require the Department to begin implementation within 90 days after the legislation was enacted.

 

Importantly, the House bill includes specific language protecting the information collected through the system, exempting it from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and allowing the information to be used by the Secretary only in the case of an animal disease outbreak.  Unfettered access to this information by the general public has been a concern expressed by several equine organizations and other livestock groups.

 

United States Animal Identification Implementation Act

 

Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) has introduced the United States Animal Identification Implementation Act (S. 2070).  This bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture “to implement the United States Animal Identification Plan,” the Plan now being considered by USDA. 

 

Unlike the other bills, the Hagel legislation provides for a phase-in of the Plan for different animals, such as horses.  While USDA would be required to implement the plan for cattle months 2 to 3 months of enactment, an identification system for other livestock, including horses, would have to be established within one year of enactment.

 

The bill authorizes $50 million to set up the identification system.  Like the House bill, the Hagel bill includes specific language protecting the animal identification information, exempting it from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and allowing the Secretary to collect only data necessary to implement the identification system.

 

All of these bills have been referred to the respective Agriculture Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives.