Don’t chicken out; count them all (Editorial)
The federal government’s proposal to identify every animal which could potentially move into the marketplace and the food chain is on the table again.
It is being served up by the USDA, which has decided to push ahead with the project, contending that the cost, which it estimates at $100 million, would not be “economically significant.”
Opposition surfaced immediately.
A coalition of agriculture and consumer organizations from across the nation is challenging the USDA’s decision, sending a joint letter to the Congressional Office of Management and Budget last week, arguing that the rule should be sent back to the USDA because of the impact it will have on family farmers, ranchers, related businesses and other citizens who own animals.
The letter cites research from North Dakota State University, which estimated the costs for cattle as more than five times greater per animal than the USDA’s estimate, potentially creating costs of more than a billion dollars per year.
The letter from the coalition also points out that USDA “arbitrarily assumed that only 30 million cattle” would be subject to the new regulatory requirements, even though this assumption was “contradicted by the publicly available data on the cattle industry.”
Opponents claim that by underestimating both the number of animals affected and the cost per animal, the USDA was able to place the project on a fast-track to be finalized after review by the Office of Management and Budget.
The opposing coalition noted its particular concern with the disproportionate impact on small farmers due to the on-ranch costs for equipment and labor involved in tagging and long-term record keeping.
The coalition also noted that the agency failed to address the increased costs to livestock-related businesses, such as for certified veterinarians and sale barns.
In addition to beef and dairy cattle, the USDA’s proposed rule imposes new regulatory requirements for poultry producers without any assessment of the costs.
The birds would have to be identified either as a “unit,” for example, a flock being shipped off the farm, or with leg bands.
The letter states, “with respect to poultry, the agency conducted no analysis of the costs in its Regulatory Impact Analysis.”
An animal ID project of some sort has been kicked around for more than seven years.
USDA sees it as an export safeguard, a barrier against another “mad cow.”
But as the nation continues to teeter on the edge of a recession, it is no time to economically punish small businesses and livestock operations, let alone the integrators which put people to work.
For them, $100 million is not “economically insignificant.”
We hope the OMB, which is probably better at math than those staffers at the USDA, should return the proposal to the ag department for a thorough and complete economic analysis.
And this time, do the poultry.