A controversial federal plan to track livestock from birth to butcher shop needs more input from the people it intends to regulate, new U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said earlier this week.
Vilsack made the announcement after hearing from several farm and ranch groups, including representatives from Montana, about the National Animal Identification System. Western farm and ranch groups of all political stripes have called the government's plans overreaching and unworkable.
"All of the groups that represent the cattle-raising West are pretty unanimous in our take on it," said Gilles Stockton, of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. "We're pretty skeptical."
The rancher from Grass Range said Vilsack's sit-down meeting with livestock groups big and small was a first, despite the USDA having spent years planning to track farm animals from farm to supermarket.
National identification system advocates say the tracking is needed so the government can easily locate sources of disease in the nation's food supply and identify animals that have been potentially exposed. Most vocal among the groups is the American Veterinary Medical Association, which contends that extensive identification not only protects consumers but is also necessary to minimize the livestock loss.
Currently, the identification system is voluntary. But, if nationally enforced it would require everyone from large operators to urbanites with egg laying hens to tag their animals, probably with microchips or radio tags, and regularly report the animals' status to the government.
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