WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced that it was extending the deadline for public comments on its proposed rule for mandatory animal traceability, following a request by forty-nine organizations for a deadline extension. The public comment period deadline is extended to December 9, 2011.
The organizations had sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack requesting an extension to allow sufficient time for the people who will be affected to analyze the rule and submit comments.
“We have significant concerns about the substance of the rule, and we appreciate the USDA providing more time for public comment,” stated Judith McGeary, Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and vice-chair of the USDA Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health. “Our farmers are already struggling with the poor economy and terrible weather conditions in many parts of the country, and they needed additional time to be provide comment to the agency about the impact this proposed rule will have.”
While the USDA already has traceability requirements as part of existing animal disease control programs, the proposed rule goes much further to require animal tracking even absent clear and documented disease threats. The proposed rule has raised significant concerns among family farm and ranch advocates, who accuse the agency of pushing a program to benefit corporate agribusiness interests rather than animal health.
“The USDA keeps saying that this is an animal health program, but it has failed to provide valid animal health reasons for it,” argued Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF USA. “The real push for this program comes from the giant meat packing corporations who want international standards to help their export markets.” Farm advocates have suggested that meatpacking companies that wish to export meat should enhance the current voluntary programs that compensate farmers and ranchers for the extra paperwork and costs involved with comp lying.
The USDA draft rule greatly expands what animals must be identified, including young feeder cattle, which are processed at a young age and never enter the breeding herd.
“While any animal can become sick, there is no evidence that tracking feeder cattle will do anything to address animal disease issues in this country,” continued Ms. McGeary. “To the contrary, requiring the large numbers of feeder cattle to be tagged and accompanied by paperwork could actually harm our ability to respond to animal diseases by swamping the system with unnecessary stacks of paper.”
While expressing appreciation for the extension to the comment period, the groups continue to argue that the agency needs to reconsider the substance of the rule as well.
“For the sake of all Americans, the USDA should put the interests of family farmers ahead of the meatpacking lobby," stated Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.
Source: Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, R-CALF USA, and The Cornucopia Institute