PROGRAM ON HOLD: House bill cuts off spending for system
By MARC HELLER,
Watertown Daily Times
WASHINGTON — Congress is on the verge of putting on hold a national system to track livestock, telling the Obama administration it will not fund the effort until the U.S. Department of Agriculture does a better job implementing it.
The House passed a spending bill Thursday that cuts off funding for the National Animal Identification System, even as USDA officials take suggestions from farmers and others who will be affected by the program, which is aimed at halting the spread of diseases that can contaminate food.
Lawmakers are grappling with several issues, including whether the voluntary system should be made mandatory and, if it remains voluntary, how to boost participation beyond the 35 percent or so of producers nationwide who take part. A group opposed to the system has sued the USDA, asking a federal court to halt the program’s implementation.
The USDA has spent $142 million on the program since 2004.
Criticism of the program comes from two directions. On one are lawmakers such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who pushed through the funding cut and has pushed for a mandatory system.
On another are groups such as the Empire State Family Farm Alliance, which has said the national system is unnecessary and will cost farmers several times the $3 to $4 per animal that officials have estimated.
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