William T. Hawks - Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, USDA

William T. Hawks: Thank you, Dan…I learned earlier when I got here that timing is everything with this group, and I promise to be brief no matter how long it takes me!

It is, indeed, a pleasure to be here with you this morning.

I'm here to talk to you today about animal identification and what we are doing with animal identification in the Department of Agriculture. Dan [Fick] has laid out the need for animal identification. It goes back to Foot and Mouth Disease, it goes back to BSE [Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy], it goes to a lot of different diseases that affect the entire livestock sector.

One of the things that I want to share with you about this is the fact that we do understand at the Department of Agriculture that horses, cows, goats and sheep are different. There is no question about that. So, as we move forward with developing the plans to implement the animal identification, we are going around the country...

We've transferred $18.8 million from CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation) to start this process. We have just awarded $11.6 million for cooperative agreements because we need to get answers to questions.

I tell people all the time, "We don't have all the answers." I think that is one of the perceptions that's been out there: that we at the USDA had this grandiose plan that we were going to put forward regardless of how it affected industry. I can stand here and tell you that is absolutely not the case.

We are going to work collectively with all industries, whether it's the horse industry, the cattle, the swine, all of those…to make sure that whatever we do is cost effective and is efficient. I know sometimes people think that government can't do things like that, but that is a commitment that we are making: to work collectively with the industry to make sure we do that.

As I said, we awarded $11.6 million in cooperative agreements that went to 29 states and tribal entities to try and answer some of those questions.

We do think that all livestock should be identified and we are moving forward in that [regard]. The presidential budget has $33 million in it for '05 if we ever get a budget passed. It has passed the House of Representatives…for animal identification. So we are moving forward with that.

The first thing we want to do is register premises and move forward to individual identification.

One of the things I want to compliment this group on is, as Dan says, you are working, and we have recognized you, this consortium, as the Equine Species Working Group. This is the group that we are going to be listening to at these listening sessions that we are holding all around the country to make sure that any system that we go forward with meets that criteria of being technology-neutral; [that] it meets the criteria of being effective and efficient. This is about animal diseases. That's what we are dealing with. We want to be able to track animals within 48 hours of wherever they have been, to which premises.

I realize, the way you move horses around this country - the pleasure horses, the race horses, all the horse shows - that is something that we have got to work with you collectively to make sure we do that.

That is where we are with this. The fact of the matter is that we don't have all the answers. I couldn't even say that we have all the questions, but we are totally committed to move toward common-sense solutions to this situation.

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