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About Maine's Animal ID Program
March 27, 2006
Contact: Don Hoenig, VMD, State Veterinarian
Who Needs Animal ID? An Update
For the past year here in Maine, we’ve been educating folks about animal identification and why we here at the Maine Department of Agriculture (and many other people within agriculture as well) feel that a better system of animal identification and tracking is needed. As we’ve been bombarded by images in the news media over the past few years of cattle in the UK, Brazil and Argentina being destroyed due to foot and mouth disease (FMD) or of millions of birds dying or being euthanized due to infection with or exposure to avian influenza (AI), we can count ourselves fortunate that so far we haven’t had to face up to agricultural disasters on this scale. In fact, we haven’t had FMD in this country since 1929; and the last time we faced a devastating outbreak of highly pathogenic AI was 1983-84 in Pennsylvania. I think we are all well aware that this could change in an instant. Avian influenza in all probability will be here this year and we’ve been very lucky so far in avoiding FMD.
As public servants, we take our jobs very seriously. The people of Maine expect that, in an animal health emergency, they will be able to call on us for help and that we will competently, compassionately and professionally provide that help. Our mission is to protect the health of the animals of Maine. Currently, we have many tools to help us accomplish this job: experienced, trained employees; proficient diagnostic laboratories; accurate, quick testing methods to diagnose disease; experience in dealing with many types of animal emergencies; a good plan that we have tested. In our view, the tool that’s missing from the toolbox is an effective system of animal identification and tracking. Highly contagious diseases such as AI and FMD move quickly through populations. AI has the added concern of being a human health pathogen.
Early detection and quick response is critical in controlling the spread of such diseases. One way to improve this response and containment is to know ahead of time where all the susceptible animals are and to quickly be able to determine in an emergency where potentially exposed or infected animals moved. Currently, we do not have such a system in this country. During an emergency is not the time to be trying to figure out where all the animals are if we can just as easily do this in advance.
The proposals plans that have been circulated for a system of national animal identification are just that: proposals. Everything is still open to public comment. Everything that is written down and that has been circulated is in draft form. All target dates are not written in stone but are for purposes of discussion.
In Maine, we hired Judy Perry in January 2005 to be our animal ID coordinator. We’re calling our voluntary program IDME. Judy and others have been publicizing IDME for more than a year- in news articles, mailings to farmers, public service announcements on TV, radio interviews, attendance at numerous public meetings and in talks in front of many producer groups. Judy has been accepting applications for voluntary premises, or farm, registration, the first step in the proposed program. As of March 2006, over 400 folks have registered their premises under the IDME program. Since the program is voluntary, all data is confidential. The second two stages of the proposed plan, as yet to be implemented, are animal identification and animal tracking.
Many, many questions still remain. Numerous issues still need to be sorted out:
These are important questions, and we understand your frustration. Unfortunately, we cannot answer all these questions at this time.
What we do know is that we will over the coming months we will continue to educate Maine livestock owners about the program wherever and whenever requested. We need your input to develop a program that can best serve the farmers of Maine and protect the health of the animals of the State. We also welcome any and all input.
Please don’t hesitate to call us if you have any questions or would like to request staff presence at a meeting. Questions, issues or requests should be directed to (207) 287-4507 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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