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Identification System Proposed for U.S. Farm Animals

I’m Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The United States Department of Agriculture wants to develop a system to follow the movements of cows, chickens and pigs in the country.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced plans for the National Animal Identification System earlier this month. A detailed program or set of rules has yet to be approved. Mister Johanns said the Bush administration is now proposing ideas for the system. He also said the Agriculture Department is seeking comments from the agricultural community.

The administration would like the meat industry and farmers to start keeping records of animals on their own. Then, in two thousand nine, complete records of each animal’s movement would be required. Mister Johanns said the goal of the system is to identify within two days any animals or places that may be linked to disease.

The system would require that records be kept for three kinds of information. Farms and animal holding areas would need to be identified. Individual animals or groups of animals also would be identified. So would the movements of animals from place to place.

State and federal officials would be able to use this information to help guard against or control animal disease. Mister Johanns says a National Animal Identification System would be a tool to fight threats, even before they happen.

However, some farmers and industry representatives have expressed concern that the information will be made public. The Agriculture Secretary has said the information will remain private. But, it is unclear how freedom of information laws will affect the system.

The Department of Agriculture says the system could cost at least eighty million dollars a year. But that does not include equipment that farmers will need to record and store information.

It is not clear how all animals will be identified in the system because the rules have yet to be written. Reports say each cow will have its own number. Pigs and chickens will probably be identified in groups. Other animals like fish also are being considered.

The proposed system would represent a new way to guard against animal diseases like bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or B.S.E. Japan says concerns about B.S.E. are one of the reasons it continues to ban American beef.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Gwen Outen.