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Ranchers weigh in on ID system

The region's cattle ranchers say they have a lot riding on a proposed national livestock identification program. They worry, following the recent discovery of mad cow disease, that they may be stuck footing the bill for a mandatory program that w...

The region's cattle ranchers say they have a lot riding on a proposed national livestock identification program.

They worry, following the recent discovery of mad cow disease, that they may be stuck footing the bill for a mandatory program that would track every cow from birth.

"If the government is going to mandate it, we'll need a lot of help to pay for it," said Steve Blake, a feedlot owner near Wilmont, Minn., and president of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association.

Cattle producers in Minnesota and North Dakota also are concerned an ID program could make proprietary information public, said Wade Moser, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association. "We won't support any proposal that doesn't adequately address both of those critical points," Moser said.

Proprietary information including how many cattle ranchers own and who they sell to shouldn't be made public, he said.

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Only animal health officials should have access to livestock tracking records, he said.

Following the nation's first case of mad cow disease, some members of Congress made a high priority of creating a national livestock ID system.

They hope to create a system that allows agriculture officials to quickly track down animals suspected of carrying food-borne diseases such as mad cow or foot and mouth disease.

More than 60 countries closed their borders to U.S. beef after one Holstein cow in Washington tested positive for mad cow disease in December.

"In light of what's happened, we need to have some sort of ID system implemented," Moser said.

An ID system would speed tracking efforts and rebuild confidence in export markets, Brake said.

"If this helps us get those export markets back, it will be well worth the cost," he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture hasn't found 52 of 81 cows they believe came in contact with the diseased Holstein.

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U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., has called current animal tracking capabilities unacceptable.

Peterson was traveling in South America on Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Currently, the success of tracking livestock is largely dependent on how well ranchers keep voluntary records. Peterson has co-sponsored legislation that would require all livestock be fitted with ear tags that hold radio transmitters.

From a computer database, agriculture officials could trace an animal back to its birth within 48 hours.

Peterson's bill includes $175 million to launch the program. It would also exempt livestock data from the Freedom of Information Act. About 10 other bills that would create livestock ID programs have been introduced in Congress.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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