Legislation recently introduced in both chambers of the U.S. Congress would accelerate the implementation of a proposed national livestock identification program that would include all farm-raised animals, including horses.
The federal government has contemplated a national livestock ID since 2002, but initial drafts of the program did not call for horses to be included. It was thought horses could be phased in later when a proper procedure was developed.
However, legislators have added horses to the program and are now hoping it is fast tracked towards enactment because of concerns over the first cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) recently found in Washington.
A task force of nearly 30 national equine organizations formed by the American Horse Council has been working on developing equine identification standards that would be beneficial to the industry and still be in compliance with the plan.
Amy Mann, director of regulatory affairs for the AHC, said the latest push by legislators is forcing the horse industry to act quicker than originally expected. A meeting of the task force is slated for mid-March in order to come up with a plan to take to legislators.
"We don't have the luxury of having as much time as we probably thought we'd have," Mann said. "We need to be prepared as an industry to address it and to come up with a plan that is minimally intrusive."
The U.S. animal identification plan is intended to establish a standardized, alpha-numeric system for animal identification. Its purpose is to permit "trace back" within 48 hours of a confirmed diagnosis of an animal disease such as mad cow or foot-and-mouth.
A House bill introduced Feb. 10 would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture $175 million for quick implementation. It would require the USDA to begin a national ID system 90 days after its passage. The Senate version would give $50 million to the USDA for the programs implementation.
Mann said it is important for the equine industry to stress to legislators what is being proposed for animals such as cows and swine -- a radio transmitter ear tag -- is not a viable alternative for horses.
"What may work in one livestock group will not work in others," Mann said. "That is why we must come up with a plan that will have a minimum effect on how we do business."
Organizations with representatives on the AHC's task force include the AAEP, California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.