USDA's implementation of the National Animal Identification System came under heavy fire Wednesday from House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro. She hinted that she would push USDA to require that meat procured for its feeding programs to come only from animals that were identified in the National Animal Identification System.
USDA is one of the nation's largest meat buyers for the school lunch program. DeLauro may be able to push for changes in ongoing farm bill negotiations after being named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the farm bill conference committee.
In heated criticism of the $128 million that has so far been spent on the program – and the lack of measurable results, DeLauro warned USDA under secretary Bruce Knight, "There has got to be a change." She asked for a detailed plan on what USDA would do with the $24 million requested for NAIS in fiscal 2009.
DeLauro, who is a longtime advocate of a mandatory program pointed out there are mandatory ID programs in European Union, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Australia. When the U.S. program was originally announced by USDA in 2001 it was to be mandatory, she recounted. "Early on USDA recognized NAIS would help the U.S. in world competition."
Commenting on the switch to a voluntary program that was announced in 2006 by then Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, DeLauro charged, "I think you have done a disservice to our country." A subcommittee analysis of costs per state compared to the state's accomplishments showed that only three states had exceeded the goals for premises registration, and one of those state's, Wisconsin, had a mandatory registration program.
When she asked Knight if he had "rethought" a mandatory program, he noted that the poultry industry, the pork industry, and sheep industry all had voluntary programs that would soon move quickly to the 48-hour traceability goal. But, Knight pointed out that with dairy and beef cattle there were areas of "very, very intense producer-led opposition" to NAIS. USDA's decision to move to a voluntary program was "pragmatic," he said, "to move past those pockets of opposition." Knight testified he was confident the voluntary program would reach "critical mass" allowing the U.S. to have a program that would provide traceability in the event of an animal disease emergency.