PASCO, Wash. — Just 36 percent of ranchers are taking part in a federal program started five years ago to trace livestock in a disease outbreak.
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials found out why last week, when 75 Western livestock producers gave them an earful during a meeting. The "listening session” was one of seven scheduled across the country in May and June to hear ranchers’ concerns, with the goal of increasing participation in the program.
Those concerns haven’t changed much in five years: The cost is too high for small farmers. The regulations amount to bureaucratic suffocation. The program neither prevents nor controls disease. And what’s in a farmer’s pasture is nobody’s business.
"This is the last of your freedom, boys. Freedom restricted is freedom lost,” said Bert Smith, a cattleman from Layton, Utah, who owns Ox Ranch in Ruby Valley, Nev.
The nationwide tracking system, started in 2004, is intended to pinpoint an animal’s location within 48 hours after a disease is discovered. Farmers were to have registered their properties voluntarily with their states by January 2008. Mandatory reporting of livestock movements was to begin one year later.
But just 36 percent of the nation’s estimated 1.4 million farm "premises,” which includes farms’ multiple locations, are registered for the program.
As of March 31, the USDA has put $119.4 million toward the program, which it says will help ensure the safety of the food supply, particularly for export markets that may refuse to accept U.S. beef, pork or poultry during a disease outbreak.
During the recent swine flu epidemic, several countries banned U.