I take exception to your recent characterization that USDA's commitment to keeping the National Animal ID program voluntary somehow constitutes a lack of resolve on our part to make this program a success ("USDA Reaffirms Voluntary NAIS; Premiums Show ID Pays," Dec. 1 BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly). I also disagree with the notion that USDA quietly announced this decision via release of our new draft User Guide for producers.

I've gone on the record numerous times to explain why it makes good sense to keep the Animal ID program voluntary at the federal level. Most importantly, around the country, producers -- the backbone of the system -- have told USDA their preference is a voluntary system. It's their livelihood, their business information and, quite simply, it should be their choice to participate.

We're actively promoting the system and encouraging producers all across the country to register their premises. The community outreach event you mention in your story was designed for just this purpose -- sitting down with our state and industry partners to discuss the system and new communications tools designed to help them increase premises registration totals across the country. The number of premises registered across the country stands today at more than 333,000 and continues to rise each week.

The recently released draft User Guide is another key component in this effort. Producers interested in animal ID now have a comprehensive guide that explains what the system is and how it can help protect their operations and communities from the potentially devastating effects of serious animal disease events. Releasing the guide for public comment provides a way for producers to send us their insights into the program, while also helping them make informed decisions regarding their participation.

Contrary to your report of the animal ID system's demise, the program is gaining traction across the country. The best way to enhance its momentum -- and ultimate success -- is to keep it voluntary at the federal level; inform producers of the system's many benefits; and, at the end of the day, let them make the right decision for their operations and their livelihoods.
-- Bruce I. Knight
USDA under secretary for
marketing and regulatory programs