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Premises Registration Will Minimize Losses

SALT LAKE CITY, January 8, 2007 – Bruce Knight, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, urged livestock producers attending the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 88th annual meeting to participate in a voluntary nationwide program that could help prevent an animal disease outbreak from becoming widespread.

“The threat of a foreign animal disease outbreak is very real,” Knight said, mentioning agri-terrorism as one possible catalyst for such an outbreak. “We need you involved to make the animal identification system effective and minimize the damage from an outbreak.”

“It’s a voluntary program, and it’s not going to go mandatory” in the future, Knight said. When asked by a member of the audience whether he can guarantee that members of Congress and future presidential administrations would not keep the plan voluntary, Knight said he believes it would be unlikely for any public official to change the plan in light of the intense criticism he or she would receive from angry producers.

Regarding the confidentiality of the National Animal Identification System, Knight sought to allay the concerns many producers feel by stating the program would be maintained by state government and private entities, not the federal government. “We have built safeguards in the system to ensure” producer information is kept confidential and used only in declared emergencies, he said.

Knight said if producers would take a few minutes now to register their premises in the National Animal Identification System, it could save them in the long run.

“Delays lead to losses in livestock, income, markets and labor,” he said. “A viable animal identification system will reduce unnecessary losses,” including those of decades-old bloodlines, and better ensure future business viability.

He also encouraged livestock producers to remember the costs of a disease outbreak – which likely would involve quarantines – to neighbors and communities when they weigh the pros and cons of premises registration. The more producers enrolled in the NAIS, the more likely the source of a disease outbreak could be traced within 24 hours.

Knight said that beyond premises registration, USDA intends for the NAIS to include additional premises identification and animal tracking steps down the road. However, he stressed it would be up to producers to “decide their level of participation” in the NAIS ultimately.

He reminded Farm Bureau members that Australia and Canada already have animal tracking systems in place, and he predicted that U.S. markets, including restaurants and retail outlets, will request more information from producers in the future. “We want U.S. producers to be competitive with the safest, most wholesome” product available anywhere, he said.

Knight said about 343,000 livestock premises, nearly a quarter of those nationwide, have enrolled in USDA’s program. The goal is to register a majority of livestock premises by 2009.

A “big push” this year will be to get livestock producers who raise animals destined for human consumption to enroll their premises. This emphasis is more important now than enrolling smaller-scale producers and those individuals who keep a few horses or other animals for recreational purposes, Knight said.

Knight, a South Dakota native, said he understands the frustrations and concerns many farmers and ranchers have about the program because members of his own family raise livestock commercially. However, premises registration is free and easier than many producers believe, with not much more information requested than what they would use to place an ad in their local phone directory.

Knight urged livestock producers to review the USDA’s Web site on this issue at www.usda.gov/nais for more information.

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Contacts:

Tracy Taylor Grondine
(202) 316-6377
tracyg@fb.org