U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stopped short of endorsing a mandatory animal identification system Tuesday. Instead, the former Iowa governor told a House agriculture appropriations subcommittee that his office must first work through concerns from those that are against the proposal.
Vilsack spoke with reporters by phone following the meeting. "I want to make sure that I’m clear about this, I think it is very important to the process – whether you do it through a regulatory process or through the passage of legislation – that we do everything we possibly can to incorporate the input of those who have concerns about mandatory I.D.," Vilsack said.
The chairwoman of the subcommittee, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro, and the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, are both pressing the Obama administration to implement the mandatory I.D. system. Vilsack says their concerns about being able to quickly trace sources of food-borne disease outbreaks are valid.
"I’m concerned about the circumstances of not having system that is nationwide and is a reliable system that would…allow us to identify and prevent problems so we can mitigate the damage," Vilsack said. Many livestock producers, large and small, are opposed to an I.D. system because of the cost, privacy concerns and potential for lawsuits. Vilsack says he plans to arrange meetings with groups that are opposed to the plan.
"Right now, there’s a division," Vilsack admitted. "What I don’t want is a circumstance where this is mandated and then people spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to get around it. That doesn’t do anyone any good."
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is among the groups that supports a voluntary, rather than mandatory, I.D. system. Currently, about 35% of the nation’s livestock producers are enrolled in a voluntary program that was started after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was discovered in 2003.