USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a proposed rule this week that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says will enable federal and state animal health officials to do a better and faster job of mounting a rapid response when an animal disease outbreak occurs.

According to Vilsack, the proposed rule, published in yesterday’s Federal Register, meets the criteria that USDA established last year when it announced it would revamp its failed attempts at establishing an animal traceability system.

“The proposed rule we’re issuing this week meets all four tenants that I initially laid out,” Vilsack says. “It will indeed be administered by states and tribal nations, it will only apply to livestock moved interstate, it encourages the use of low-cost technology and it will be implemented transparently.”

Under the proposed rule, unless specifically exempted, cattle 18 months of age and older moved interstate would have to be officially identified and accompanied with an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as an owner-shipper statement or brand certificates. “Tracing capabilities vary by species, we acknowledge, thus the proposed regulations will focus on those species such as the cattle sector where improved capabilities are most needed,” Vilsack says.

Brands will be accepted as official ID for livestock moved interstate, if animal health officials in the two states agree. According to John Clifford, USDA chief veterinarian, brands can also be used in-state. However, he points out that there are about 14 brand states in the U.S., meaning there are 36 additional states without the infrastructure in place to effectively deal with brands as a form of animal ID. That’s why brands are not part of the nationwide ID program.

Vilsack says the proposed rules are not a disease prevention program. But, he adds, “I don’t think there is anyone who disagrees that it makes economic sense and common sense that if you have a disease incident, you want to deal with it as quickly as possible. You want to focus and target the populations that need to be focused on and targeted, as opposed to taking a broad brush, taking thousands of animals, spending a lot of time, having the uncertainty that it creates in the market, and the cost and expense of testing animals that, frankly, don’t need testing because you have a poor traceability system in place.”

Major livestock organizations generally reacted favorably to the proposed rule. While they said they would closely evaluate the proposed rule and comment as appropriate, animal health is a concern and a workable animal health ID program is necessary. Other groups, such as R-CALF, panned the proposal and blasted USDA, however.

USDA will accept comments on the proposed rule through Nov. 9. You may submit comments online via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Written comments can be mailed to USDA at Docket No. APHIS-2009-0091, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238.

Read the proposed rule here.