Last week, USDA Secretary Mike Johanns urged cattlemen in Nashville to help make a voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS) work. But despite USDA's rhetoric and all the organizational support for voluntary national ID, the industry remains in denial about this process.

Yes, the government has met its initial target for premise registration (while this week giving producers the right to unregister their premises), but it's becoming increasingly obvious that a voluntary program won't succeed in giving the industry its stated 48-hour traceback capability. It's true the marketplace will continue to pull cattle through the system relative to age and source verification, but it won't meet the requirements of a system needed to safeguard the industry's cowherd, or consumers in the case of a disease outbreak or agro-terrorism.

Voluntary ID will likely continue to struggle along until the decision is ultimately made to have traceback or to forget the concept entirely. Odds are that the ultimate decision will continue to be postponed for several years, with the industry remaining in a state of limbo in the meantime.

Electronic ID as a management tool, and for source and age verification in response to marketplace demand, will continue to be factors. But national ID is effectively dead in the meantime. I'm embarrassed to say I was among those who advocated the use of terms like voluntary ID with 100% participation.

Certainly timing is critical in all political activities, and it's likely time for the industry to have a serious discussion about national ID. Is 48-hour traceback a critical tool for the industry, or is it something we're willing to risk not having as we move forward?

As an industry we need to reach consensus on this issue, then make the hard decision that will come with it, whatever the choice.

-- Troy Marshall