In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its latest attempt to create a national animal traceability program, despite close to a decade of widespread opposition from ranchers and $100 million allocated on a previous, failed attempt.
Although the USDA traceability program would apply to all livestock, the major focus is on cattle, with requirements that each individual animal be tagged. Other animals, like swine and poultry, would also need individual tags — but many of the largest operations, including most factory farms, would only be required to provide one tag for an entire group of animals, significantly lowering their costs to participate compared to smaller producers who deal with their animals individually. The cattle portion of the proposal has small and independent cattle producers worried. Designed to tag and trace every head of cattle that moves across state lines, the newest USDA animal ID program is advertised as essential to containing animal disease outbreaks and protecting the long-term viability of animal agriculture in the United States. In reality, this traceability program is devised to expand export opportunities, which will benefit corporate agribusiness and could hurt small cattle producers. The problems with the USDA’s implementation of this traceability program are all the more apparent in light of the many more pressing issues that USDA is not addressing: dangerous slaughterhouses practices that increase the risk of foodborne illness, the growth of the factory farm model, and abusive market practices by the handful of corporations that control meat processing. Addressing any of these issues wold have a far more beneficial impact on products, consumers and markets than a poorly designed animal traceability program that could do more harm than good.