Equine Group Provides Views to USDA on
Animal ID with Unique Issues for Horses
Amiercn Horse Council - Reprinted with Permission


The Equine Species Working Group has advised the U.S. Department of Agriculture that it supports the initial approach that the Department is taking in organizing a national animal ID system to deal with animal diseases and their effects. But, the Group cautioned, that the horse industry has unique issues and concerns that must be considered in the process.

“We are pleased that USDA seems to be taking a prudent, methodical approach to implementing a national animal ID system,” said Dan Fick, Executive Vice President of The Jockey Club and Co-Chair of the Equine Species Working Group. “The Department recognizes that data must be protected by any system and that all components must be in place and tested before any system can be made mandatory. These principles are fundamental since the horse industry is very concerned about confidentiality, practically and cost.”

The ESWG includes representatives fro over thirty equine associations, state veterinarians and others involved in the horse industry. It has been evaluating the national animal ID plan, its benefits and costs to the horse industry, and considering how the industry might develop a system for equine identification that would fit into the national plan.

USDA Solicits Input
In July, USDA asked for comments on its approach to the much-discussed National Animal Identification System. Specifically it sought suggestions on a timetable, whether the system should be voluntary or mandatory, and to which species it should apply. The ESWG comments were submitted in response. USDA will now review all the responses and propose any new federal rules needed to implement a national animal ID system for disease control.

USDA noted that the primary purpose of a national animal ID system is to address animal health emergencies. Presently, the system is calling for (1) an identification number for each animal “premise” involved; (2) an identification number for each animal or lot of animals that is part of the system; and (3) a location, time and date stamp so that animals can be “traced” in the event of a major disease outbreak.

ESWG Comments
In its comments, the ESWG noted that the horse industry is a very diverse industry that involves a wide variety of activities in all regions of the country. “One characteristic of horses not common to other livestock is how often they move, intrastate, interstate and internationally. The size, diversity and structure of the horse industry present unique issues in developing a national equine identification system.”

The ESWG comments emphasized, “that a very important concern to the horse industry is the confidentiality of any data collected and access to such data. Without confidence that data is secure and accessibility well-controlled, the industry cannot support a national animal ID system.”

The Group maintained that any national system should allow the industry the flexibility to use existing identification systems or adopt new ones. It must respect the specific and individual needs of the species involved. There is no “one-size-fits-all” system.

Obviously, an overriding concern is who pays for the development and infrastructure to implement an equine identification program. “Since disease control is of national importance and under the supervision of the federal government, the major portion of any funding should be provided by the federal government as part of the federal budget,” the ESWG concluded.

“With so many questions outstanding, it is almost speculative to predict when a program should transition from a voluntary to a mandated system,” the Group concluded. “Nonetheless, making any animal ID system mandatory should only be considered after confidentiality is ensured; a consensus on the national standards formed; and technology and procedures tested, implemented and found successful. Making a system mandatory for any species before that species can comply with it will cause irreparable harm to this effort.”

“Even when a system is in place and working,” the Group suggested “that there be a transition period from voluntary to mandatory and that any requirements be phased-in for different livestock sectors as proposed by species working groups, including the ESWG.”

The ESWG recommended that the initial focus of the system should be on food animals. Because of the scope of the required system, other animals, such as horses and animals that come into contact with, and can pose a disease threat to, food animals, can be included in the longer-term, as the system proves workable. But “the application of the system to each species should be pursuant to a timetable laid out by the various species working groups.”

“The ESWG is working on these and other issues now,” said Fick. “Our comments highlight our concerns about a national ID system and its application to the horse industry. This is going to be a complicated process given the size and diversity of the horse industry, the mobility of horses and their owners, and existing horse ID systems that need to be considered for incorporation into any national system. Obviously there are many issues still to be resolved and the horse industry must be engaged at each step in the process.”

If you would like to see the ESWG comments in full and other information about the national animal ID system and the horse industry’s involvement, please visit: www.horsecouncil.org.

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