High-profile food safety regulators recently explained the need for a national animal identification system, according to this report on Drovers.com. The comments were made at the "ID Info Expo 2009" in Kansas City, Missouri.
Proposals for such a tracking system often draw criticism from the livestock industry, centering around concerns over cost and bureaucracy. Speakers at the Expo, though, explained that such a system could offer significant protection to the industry. Greg Hugoson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture commissioner stated,
“It’s like having an insurance policy against a catastrophic health event.. If a problem occurs, it will allow authorities to isolate where the problem is and keep other, uninfected herds from being sacrificed.”
This sentiment was echoed by Douglas Meckes, acting director of food, agriculture, and veterinary defense for Homeland Security. According to Drovers, Meckes also stated that an animal ID system would help “mitigate damage” in a major disease event. Meckes specifically mentioned the example of the 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak. During the outbreak, tomato growers lost millions in sales while the FDA struggled to determine the source of the outbreak that sickened over 1,000 people. The 2008 Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak has been pointed to, on this blog and elsewhere, as an example of the importance of food traceability to industry health.
Regulatory support for an animal identification system marks a change from the past. The final line of the Drovers report struck me as wholly unsurprising: “Under the Bush Administration, Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns was adamantly opposed to mandatory animal ID.”