|WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agriculture Department intends to issue \"premises\" identification numbers to ranches, feedlots and packing plants later this year, officials said this week, a slow start for a leading U.S. response to mad cow disease.|
Assignment of \"premises\" IDs would be the first step in rural America toward nationwide animal identification. Farm groups cast aside fears of government meddling and embraced animal ID after the discovery of the first U.S. case of mad cow disease late last year.
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman pledged to speed up adoption of uniform animal ID. The White House budget office agreed in the past few days to let USDA use $18.8 million in emergency funding to launch the program.
\"We are in the implementation phase of this program now,\" said Undersecretary Bill Hawks in a telephone news conference. He said he hoped assignment of premises IDs could begin \"later this year,\" followed by assignment of ID numbers to individual animals or groups of animals.
Hawks and Ron DeHaven, head of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, indicated premises IDs might not be issued until late in the year. DeHaven outlined a process that would require 75 days, or early July, for USDA to select pilot ID systems for testing around the country.
By comparison, a state-federal-industry consortium working on animal ID has suggested all states should have a premises identification system in place by July. The consortium, U.S. Animal Identification Plan, said cattle and swine would begin receiving individual ID numbers in July 2005, with all food animals covered by July 2006.
\"We\'re committed to moving as quickly as we can,\" Hawks said, but did not directly answer a question on when full implementation would occur.
With national animal ID, agriculture officials would be able to trace within 48 hours the herdmates of suspect animals if there was a disease outbreak.
Adoption of animal ID for all food animals could cost $550 million over five years. USAIP has estimated first-year costs of $73 million.
\"We think this $18.8 million is adequate to move us forward,\" Hawks said. \"Obviously, it is our expectation this will be a cooperative project,\" with financial support from other segments of government and the food industry.
Story by Charles Abbott
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE