The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) testified on March 11 before the U.S. Congress on animal identification, making the case that a mandatory nationwide program that tracks livestock is the most effective way to minimize the effects of an animal disease outbreak.

Addressing the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, CEO and executive vice-president of the AVMA, explained that the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) would allow for the quick control of diseases entering the U.S. food supply. The speedy turnaround, he argued, could save millions of animal lives and billions of dollars, as well as shield public health and U.S. trade from profound damages.

"With full producer participation in the NAIS, we will be able to quickly contain and eradicate diseases,"  DeHaven told the subcommittee.

The NAIS, a program run by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is a modern, streamlined information system under which food animals are tagged so that their movements can be tracked in the event of a disease outbreak. Livestock identification and premises registration in NAIS are currently voluntary.

"The U.S. cannot afford to wait for a crisis to make a mandatory animal identification system a reality," DeHaven said. "A potential response time of 48 hours is a vast improvement over the current, outdated system, which consumed an average of 199 investigative days tracing the sources of animals infected with bovine TB between October 2005 and August 2007."

DeHaven also emphasized that animal identification systems are becoming prerequisites for international trade and that the U.S. lags behind other major livestock-producing countries in animal traceability. As an example, he pointed to the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) events of 2003, which caused long-lasting loss of export market share to the U.S. beef industry.

The AVMA has worked with APHIS to help implement and publicize the NAIS to its members. But despite the work of the AVMA and the USDA, only about one-third – or 505,000 (35 percent) – of America's food animal production facilities are currently registered.

"Since it is impossible to predict which corner of our nation or sector of animal agriculture will be impacted by a disease outbreak, the AVMA believes that NAIS will not live up to its potential benefit unless all food animal production facilities are registered," Dr. DeHaven said.

View DeHaven's complete written testimony.