Forty-nine advocacy groups representing the interests of family farmers, ranchers, and consumers have formally requested that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack extend the public comment period for a controversial new proposal that would require livestock producers in the U.S. to incur significant expense tracking animals that cross state lines. The comment period on the proposed, "Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate," is scheduled to end on Nov. 9, and the organizations have requested an additional 60 days.
The period for public comment coincides with the fall harvest and comes during the worst drought ever recorded in some major livestock production regions," said Judith McGeary, Executive Director of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and vice-chair of the USDA Secretary's Advisory Committee on Animal Health. "Our farmers and ranchers are struggling to get their crops in and save their animals, and they need more time to assess the impacts of the proposed rule."
The groups' letter to Secretary Vilsack pointed out that many farmers and ranchers are not online, slowing the speed of communication. "According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, more than 40% of farms do not have internet access," they noted in the letter.
"We have a significant number of Amish and Mennonite members who can only be contacted by mail or through print publications," explained Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. "They, in turn, will have to mail their comments to USDA. If the agency actually wants to hear from these livestock owners, it needs to extend the comment period."
Some groups have questioned the agency's willingness to respond to producers' concerns.
"A coalition of cattle groups presented USDA with a reasonable plan for cattle identification, but the agency persists in proposing unworkable rules," contends R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard. "The least the agency can do is extend the comment period so that the cattlemen can comment on the proposal when they're not in the middle of the calf-weaning and shipping seasons."
The proposal has raised concerns about the economic impacts on both livestock producers and related businesses.
Gilles Stockton, a member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils said, "It will take a significant amount of time to pencil out the true costs of this proposal. Livestock producers, sale barns, and states deserve adequate time to figure these costs and give comment."
McCreary says that farmers and ranchers are concerned and USDA needs to take the time to understand those concerns and address them.