Animal ID system gets strong response from farmers

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(Host) Vermont will soon require any farm with livestock or poultry to register with the state. It’s the first step toward a proposed national animal identification system. The purpose of the program is to track down and eradicate disease. But the proposal is controversial, and both sides spoke out on Wednesday at the Statehouse.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With diseases like avian flu on the horizon, the state wants to know where all livestock and poultry are in Vermont. So the state is moving toward a mandatory system of farm identification. It’s called premises ID and all farm operations, regardless of size, will have to register.

If you just have dogs or cats, you’re exempt. But Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says the I.D. system will eventually apply to anyone with a few sheep or a backyard chicken coop. He says the threat of avian flu is so huge, that it’s necessary to have this level of intrusion into people’s private lives.

(Kerr) “To all of us who worry about intrusive government, and I am one of those, there are times in life that trade-offs need to be made.”

(Dillon) Kerr draws a distinction between the state’s proposal to identify all farms, and the federal government’s proposal to identify and trace every single farm animal. The feds plan to mandate animal ID by January 2008.

But both plans are controversial. So many people tried to squeeze into a crowded into House Agriculture Committee hearing that the panel moved to a larger room downstairs. Paul Horton is a vegetable grower from Benson.

(Benson) “Why are folks so upset, so emotional? Why such a visceral reaction to this animal ID program? The reason is because the program that they are reading about appears so invasive. It seems to be an assault on their way of life. It becomes personal. One of the reasons many people live in this wonderful state is so they can feel free to live the life they choose.”

(Dillon) Stewart Skrill from Randolph says the ID program is an unneeded invasion of privacy. He also doubts it will work.

(Skrill) “The fact that someone is going to put some tags on some wings of some chickens is not going to stop them from getting the flu.”

(Dillon) Berlin Representative Steve Green has been researching avian flu. The disease has yet to mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans. But if that happens, Green says, the results will be catastrophic, with worldwide deaths projected in the tens of millions. He says government has to be prepared.

(Green) “We have to assume the worst. Once we have human to human transmission and we have birds headed our way, a response that was weak and inadequate becomes almost a joke.”

(Dillon) Green says bird flu spreads from wild waterfowl to domestic populations. So he says Vermont is especially vulnerable because it has two migration corridors – one down the Connecticut River Valley and another in the Champlain Valley.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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