The Alabama State Legislature has passed a bill that would authorize the state's Department of Agriculture and Industries to develop and implement an animal identification database consistent with the USDA's Animal Identification System. The state already has implemented a voluntary premises registration program, which is the initial step toward a National Animal Identification System (NAIS).
The legislation also provides for the confidentiality of information initially gathered by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries as the department implements and maintains a database of animal identification in accord with the national system.
NAIS is a cooperative state-federal-industry partnership to standardize and expand animal identification programs and practices to all livestock species and poultry. NAIS is being developed through the integration of three components — premises identification, animal identification and animal tracking.
‘The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ system will comply with any USDA policies, and we will not implement an animal ID system that would hurt Alabama farmers whether they raise two animals or 2,000 animals, says Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. “I truly appreciate what the legislature has done for the farmers and consumers of Alabama.”
The long-term goal of the NAIS is to provide animal health officials with the capability to identify all livestock and premises that have had direct contact with a disease of concern within 48 hours after discovery.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been trying for several years to develop an NAIS. The system currently is voluntary, but aspects of it are expected to become mandatory.
According to USDA, an identification system is being developed for all animals that will benefit from having a system to rapidly trace back in the event of a disease concern. Working groups are developing plans for llamas, cattle, bison, deer, elk, horses, goats, poultry, sheep and swine.
That BSE case in Alabama prompted scores of inquiries from the public and media into the location of the infected cow. The pending legislation would authorize the commissioner to keep information confidential regarding the existence or operation of any agricultural interest or other business regulated by the department.
“The Alabama Farmers Federation supports the confidentiality of any records gathered by government agencies from farmers and supports the voluntary premises registration of producers as well as animal identification if the federal government mandates that states implement such programs,” says Federation Beef, Dairy and Hay & Forage Director Perry Mobley. “This bill does not establish an animal ID system. That will be done on a federal level. This bill will protect the confidentiality of that information when and if an animal ID system comes into effect.”
Already in Alabama, more than 2,000 farms and ranches have voluntarily signed up for premises registration with the USDA Premises Allocation system, which identifies those properties associated with animal agriculture.
“Premise registration is the first building block of the entire National Animal Identification System,” says Mobley. “This program definitely is a good first step in allow us to trace animals. While it could define where a disease occurred, by defining the location, it can help eliminate speculation about a potential outbreak. The important thing to remember is that premises registration is voluntary, it's easy, and it's free.”
Initially, producers could register only through the Department of Agriculture. Now, however, the registration system has been expanded to include the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, public health agencies and other farm organizations.
Producers who would like to register through the Alabama Farmers Federation should contact Mobley at 1-800-392-5705, extension 421, or they can download a copy of the registration form from the Alfa Farmers Web site and return it to Mobley.
Farmers also may request that a form be mailed to them by contacting Mobley.
Mobley says premises registration also will be useful following natural disasters. The system will allow animal health officials to more quickly service affected producers.
The premises registration program defines the physical, geographical location where livestock are kept, housed, fed, assembled, cared for or exhibited. That includes farmers, veterinarian offices, stockyards and feed lots.
In other news concerning Alabama's BSE case, gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore asserted doubt that there actually was an infected cow in the state. The Republican former chief justice — nationally renowned for his fight to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings — said it was a “strange coincidence” that mad cow disease was found in Alabama just as government officials are seeking to start an animal identification system.
Opposed to tracking system
Moore is opposed to a national tracking system and to the current animal identification bill pending in the Alabama Legislature. “It's a strange coincidence that we have a case of mad cow disease at the same time the senate is debating this bill,” he says. “I see this as an imposition on freedom and liberty. This is not to track disease. The precept is for tracking diseases, but it will cause small farmers to be run out of business, small animal owners.”
Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Sparks, in response to Moore's remarks, said, “That Mr. Moore would question that there even was a case of BSE in Alabama shows his lack of knowledge about the agriculture industry. I would have to say that he has fallen victim to some faulty intelligence because the facts are pretty simple.
“The USDA and the Alabama Department of Agriculture have been working side by side in this investigation. The idea of a conspiracy between the federal and state government, local farmers, veterinarians, and on down the line is preposterous.”
Sparks also called Moore's remarks an insult to state and federal workers who have been “working diligently and continuously to complete the investigation of the history and death of the index animal.”