June 2 , 2006
By Steve Pringle
TFB Legislative Activities Coordinator
U.S. animal agriculture endured a frontal assault on its future in the U.S. Congress on May 24 and a real catastrophe was avoided, albeit by a decisive margin.
An amendment was offered to the Agriculture Appropriations bill which would have prevented the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from continuing talks and negotiations on any form of a national animal identification system (NAIS).
Unfortunately, the primary sponsor of the amendment to deny any discussions about NAIS was our own Congressman Ron Paul (R) of Clute. Two other members of the Texas delegation, Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler) and Congressman Sam Johnson (R-Dallas) voted for the amendment along with Paul.
While this issue remains controversial in many areas of the country, it is a fact that the future of the animal industry in Texas and the United States is dependent upon its exports and marketing opportunities, both domestic and foreign. Markets like Japan, China, Asia and India will likely not be open to U.S. beef and other livestock products until a dependable animal identification system is in place. Our major competitors are moving ahead with their own identification system. The United States is falling behind.
Current Texas Farm Bureau policy favors a voluntary animal identification system. Some livestock industry leaders believe such a system should be mandatory. That may not be necessary, because it's becoming clear that animal identification will happen in some form. Market forces are already driving the industry in that direction. The trouble with the Paul amendment is that USDA would have been prohibited from even discussing the concept. That was, and is, a very bad idea.
Fortunately, the vast majority of the Congress voted for the livestock industry and against those that threaten our animal agriculture's future. Of the Texas delegation, 29 of our 32 members voted to support the industry.
With less than 10 percent of the world's population within U.S. borders, it is critical that our nation's agriculture industry have trade access to the other 90 percent of the world's consumers. Recent studies indicate that beef and other U.S. livestock products can be a major contributor to those markets as the standard of living increases for those consumers. None of that can happen unless we can discuss animal identification calmly and rationally.
Language in the Agriculture Appropriations bill does require the USDA to move cautiously to implement a system in cooperation with the industry and individual producers. The cost of the system, privacy of information, and liability are the major concerns that will need to be addressed by USDA. Texas Farm Bureau supports all of those concepts.
Politicians should resist the temptation to make this a political issue. There is too much at stake.