From the State Vet's Office
by Tony Frazier
About 16 months ago the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries launched the first step of the National Animal Identification System. That step is premises registration. Since that time we have registered over 2200 premises in the state.
Initially the number of applications was fairly large, and then with time they have dropped to a small but steady stream of applicants registering their livestock and poultry premises in the state. I believe that maybe some of the momentum has been lost because of a small, but loud group of people who oppose this program. I am not opposed to people standing up and taking a position on what they believe, but it seems that the chorus of "nays" is led by misinformation and statements that not only do not make sense, but cannot be backed up by fact.
There are certain websites that are dedicated solely to stopping the National Animal Identification System. That holds the potential of being a tragic mistake. Because of that, I want to revisit premises registration and some of the myths that surround it.
Some people argue that using things like BSE (mad cow disease), foot and mouth disease and other foreign animal diseases are just scare tactics to get producers to support the program. We hear people say that we have not had foot and mouth disease in the United States in decades, so we should not be concerned.
I hope we are never faced with having to deal with that disease in the U. S. However, if we learned one thing from the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the United Kingdom in 2001, it is that early recognition followed by rapid containment is critically important. In the U. K., almost 4 million head of cattle and about twice that many sheep and goats had to be destroyed. Most of us can still remember the footage on the news of carcasses piled up and being burned. The fact that the virus has not been diagnosed in many years does not mean that it could not happen at any time, and the results would likely be devastating.
If that were to happen, it would not surprise me if the same people who are opposed to the identification program were not the first to point an accusing finger at the government and say, "You knew this could happen. Why didn’t you do something before now?" Should something like foot and mouth disease be diagnosed in the U.S., or any other disease that threatens our present safe, wholesome, economical food supply, recovery would absolutely depend on animal traceability.
We hear people say that this is just another government program that invades our privacy. The fact is that in 2002, the National Animal Identification System was initiated by producers and their organizations that recognized the importance of being able to quickly track, quarantine, and test animals that may have been exposed to a foreign animal disease.
The argument that this is another way that government wants to know more about a producer’s business certainly does not even remotely apply to premises registration. The information needed includes the location of the animals, a contact person’s name and contact information for the person most knowledgeable about the livestock or poultry on the premises, the species associated with the premises, and the type of operation (producer, auction market, slaughter facility, etc). For the most part, the information is available in the phone book. In fact, a major portion of the information can be gleaned from just driving up and down the road. During the days of Brucellosis (Bang’s) testing, that is exactly how we collected much or our premises information—by driving up and down the road, locating herds, knocking on doors and asking who owned those cows. Premises registration is just doing that step in advance of a foreign animal disease outbreak. I am fairly certain when producers register their premises, that it will not be some great revelation to the government.
Others are saying that premises registration is not even a necessary step. The logic is that if the owner’s contact information is available, then we should be able to contact that producer and they can tell us where their animals are housed or pastured. Please remember that the goal is to locate exposed animals rapidly, within 48 hours of known exposure. Our recent experience in trying to trace the BSE cow back to the farm of origin (where it was born) has shown us that contacting producers is not an exact science. There have been producers that were out of state on business, truck drivers on long hauls across the country and those that work long hours, as well as those who returned calls after a few days. A disease like highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) or foot and mouth disease demands rapid response. If we know where the animals live, we can respond more quickly.
Finally, friends, we live in a global environment these days. Actions we take and plans we make, or don’t make, will have an impact on the ability of our products to compete internationally. And I am firmly convinced this holds true whether you own a few cows or hundreds, a few laying hens in the backyard or thousands contracted commercially. This is again made a reality in the recent BSE case as a foreign country now questions the age of the index animal. This cow had no identification and was most likely never part of a large cattle herd.
There are other issues that the anti-National Animal Identification System community brings up, but most of them have been well thought out by those industry and government representatives who are developing the program. I hope that each producer in our state will not only look at the importance of the identification system, but will also consider how vulnerable we are without the ability to track animals quickly in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak.
We will continue to press forward with premises registration. If you have any questions, please give me a call. My number is 334-240-7253 or you may download a voluntary premises registration form at our web site at: www.agi.alabama.gov