Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 20, 2013

New program tracks livestock

M.L. JOHNSON
Associated Press

---- — MILWAUKEE (AP) — The federal government has launched a new livestock identification program to help agriculture officials to quickly track livestock in cases of disease.

It is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s second attempt at implementing such a system, which officials say is critical to maintaining the security of the nation’s food supply. An earlier, voluntary program failed because of widespread opposition among farmers and ranchers who described it as a costly hassle that didn’t help control disease.

There has been talk for years among consumer advocates about establishing a program that would trace food from farm to plate. The livestock identification system doesn’t go that far and isn’t meant to. Its main goal is to track animals’ movements so agriculture and health officials can quickly establish quarantines and take other steps to prevent the spread of disease.

“This ensures that healthy animals can continue to move freely to processing facilities, providing a dependable and affordable source for consumers as well as protecting producers’ livelihoods,” Abby Yigzaw, spokeswoman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in an email.

Michael Doyle, director of the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, said livestock identification also helps investigators determine the source of disease — and whether it happened naturally or someone tampered with the food system.