USDA’s Final Rule on Animal ID

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published its final rule on Animal ID.

Thanks to the pressure from the grassroots, the agency included important changes that make it significantly less burdensome for family farmers, ranchers, and backyard poultry owners.

We have come a very long way from Big Ag’s and USDA’s proposal for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). In this final rule, there is no premises registration, no mandatory electronic identification, no centralized databases, no reporting of movements, and no requirements for in-state movements. The final rule requires a low-tech form of identification and some form of documentation when adult cattle, dairy cattle, or show cattle cross state lines. There are also requirements for poultry that cross state lines, but hatchery chicks do not have to be identified.

We want to say THANK YOU to each and every one of you who took the time to write comments on the proposed rule in response to our action alerts. Your comments truly made a difference! We didn’t get every change we pushed for, but we got most of them, thanks to your hard work and support.

We have more details on the final rule below. We also want to let you know that we will be sending out action alerts shortly on two other issues: genetically engineered salmon and the FDA’s just-proposed regulations on food safety. We have many fights ahead of us, but as the Animal ID rule shows, we can make a difference when we work together to make our voices heard. Thank you for helping us protect the food producers who provide the nutrient-dense foods we all need!

Animal ID Rule Details

Under the final Animal ID rule, unless otherwise exempted, livestock moved across state lines would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.

There are no requirements imposed by this rule for any type of movement within a State; it only applies when animals cross state lines.

In practical terms, sheep, goat, and pig owners will not be subject to new requirements; the rule refers to the ID requirements under existing disease control programs for these animals.

Similarly, horse owners have already been identifying horses that cross state lines due to equine infectious anemia programs and will face few burdens in practice. The final rule made two positive changes in its requirements for horses:

    1) Horses that are used for transportation interstate (such as by horse and buggy) are exempt;

    2) The identification requirement includes a provision for a physical description that is not dependent on health authorities’ opinions in most cases.

The main impact of the rule will be on cattle and poultry owners. For cattle, the rule requires identification and documentation for beef cattle 18 months or older, dairy cattle, and show cattle. In response to public comments, the agency made several changes to reduce the burdens imposed by the rule, which now:

    1) Clarifies that cattle going to custom slaughter are exempt, regardless of whether the meat will be consumed by the person moving the cattle or by someone else;

    2) Provides that cattle going direct to slaughter at inspected plants can be identified with a backtag rather than a permanent form of identification;

    3) Classifies brands, tattoos, and breed registry certificates as official forms of identification as long as the shipping and receiving States agree;

    4) Clarifies the definition of “dairy cattle” to cover specific dairy breeds (Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn, and Red and Whites), rather than including dual purpose and mixed use breeds;

    5) Allows for the use of State and Tribal abbreviations on ear tags, rather than mandating the use of the “US” symbol;

    6) Accepts movement documentation other than an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving States.

Feeder cattle, beef cattle younger than 18 months of age, will be addressed in a separate rulemaking. We can expect that this will again be a difficult fight, but at least we will be able to address the specific problems posed by identifying younger animals in a separate discussion.

For poultry, the proposed rule provided for group identification as well as individual, but the definitions would have meant that most backyard poultry owners and farmers with laying hens would have had to individually identify any bird they purchased from out of state, including day-old chicks from hatcheries. We had urged that poultry be completely exempted from the rule. While USDA did not do so, it did make two significant changes, so that the final rule:

    1) Provides that birds (of any age) shipped from a hatchery to a grower do not need to be individually identified. The grower does have to keep a record of the hatchery;

    2) As with cattle, clarifies that poultry going to a custom slaughter facility are exempt, whether or not the meat will be consumed by the person moving the birds or someone else.

Although poultry being moved to an inspected slaughterhouse will need to be identified under the rule, most producers should be able to use group identification for their broilers, since broilers are typically managed in single-age groups. The greatest impact will be on live bird markets, where birds crossing state lines will most likely need to be individually identified.

Ideally, the agency would not spend so much time and effort on after-the-fact measures like tracking sick animals, and would instead focus on disease prevention, including strict inspections of animals imported from other countries and supporting pasture-based systems that produce healthy animals. But the fact that USDA made so many changes at least shows the growing power of our movement and the impact we can have when we become active. Thank you all for your time and support in this effort!

This post was taken from a recent action alert sent by the Weston A. Price Foundation. Hyperlinks to the USDA website were added for this post.