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Animal Identification and Meat Traceability

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Many animal producers support establishment of a nationwide identification (ID) system capable of quickly tracking animals from birth to slaughter. While they believe such a system is needed to better deal with animal diseases or meet foreign market specifications, some consumer groups and others believe it also would be useful for food safety or retail informational purposes -- and that the program should be able to trace meat products through processing and consumption.

However, despite years of effort on at least an animal ID program for disease purposes, many contentious issues remain unresolved. For example, should it be mandatory or voluntary? What types of information should be collected, on what animal species, and who should hold it, government or private entities? How much will it cost, and who should pay?

Following the first U.S. report of a cow with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or "mad cow disease") in late December 2003, the Secretary of Agriculture promised to take the lead in implementing an animal ID program capable of identifying all animals of interest within 48 hours of a disease discovery (BSE or other). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has committed, through FY2006, $85 million to this effort, and all states now have systems for registering animal premises.

Some industry groups and lawmakers have criticized USDA for moving too slowly and/or not providing a clearer path toward a universal ID program. Others believe that USDA's progress to date simply reflects the deep divisions among producers and other interests over the many unresolved questions. A few livestock producers oppose any effort to establish broader programs, fearing they will be costly and intrusive.

The 109th Congress was asked to address these issues. A provision in the House-passed USDA appropriation for FY2007 (H.R. 5384) would have conditioned another $33 million in spending for animal ID on publication in the Federal Register of a "complete and detailed plan" for the program, "including, but not limited to, proposed legislative changes, cost estimates, and means of program evaluation." However, a House floor amendment to prohibit all ID program funding was defeated by a wide margin. A final FY2007 appropriation had not been passed by midJanuary 2007, and USDA programs were operating under a continuing resolution.

Other bills included H.R. 1254, the National Farm Animal Identification and Records Act, H.R. 1256, to limit animal ID information disclosure, and H.R. 3170, creating a private Livestock Identification Board to oversee the program. The continuing differences over animal ID make it more likely that the topic will be part of the 2007 debate over a new omnibus farm bill. This CRS report will be updated if events warrant.