The American Horse Council reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken another step toward the implementation of the National Animal Identification System to trace animal movements in case of a major disease outbreak. "This action has been expected," said AHC president Jay Hickey. "USDA must amend several federal regulations to foster the establishment of the national animal ID system. The changes do not impose any identification requirements on horses, but they are another step in the process to a national system."
The Equine Species Working Group, which is evaluating the NAIS and determining how the horse industry can develop standards for equine identification that would benefit the industry and fit into the system, is reviewing the rule changes as part of its continuing evaluation of the NAIS.
The rule changes, which were effective Nov. 8, do not include any new federal requirements defining which animals must be officially identified, nor do they mandate that producers, including those in the horse industry, identify their animals under the national system. The changes simply recognize additional numbering systems for the identification of animals in interstate commerce and State/Federal/industry cooperative disease control and eradication programs and authorize the use of a national standardized numbering system to identify premises where animals are managed or held. Both are necessary steps in the USDA's plans to implement the NAIS. Several states have already begun requiring the registration of animal premises in preparation for a national system.
In issuing the interim rule, USDA stated that "the changes ... are necessary to allow the use of these new numbering systems for official purposes." But, USDA noted, "the use of new numbering systems will not be required as a result of this rulemaking."
USDA still plans that the initial system will be implemented on a voluntary basis. In addition, USDA said that it amended the regulations "to eliminate potential regulatory obstacles to the recognition of emerging technologies that could offer viable alternatives to existing animal identification devices and methods."
USDA is moving forward with the design and implementation of the NAIS, first on a voluntary basis, to integrate the various animal ID programs that currently exist and "then to scale up to the national level, to include those producers and animals [such as horses] that are not currently in an animal identification program. The goal is to create an effective, uniform, consistent, and efficient national system," USDA noted.
Although USDA made the rule effective upon publication, comments from affected industries will be considered by USDA if received by Jan. 7, 2005.