Vermont farmers have been slow to sign up for a federal tracking program that supporters say will help protect consumers from the spread of animal disease.
Some farmers say they’re waiting for the government to get the program up to speed before they sign up.
Sara Sciammacco has more from Washington.
(Sciammacco) Four years ago, the U.S. had its first case of the so-called mad cow disease.
The beef industry lost $2 billion.
The federal government began what is now known as the National Animal Identification System.
It tracks the movements of animals.
Beth Kennett runs a small dairy farm in Rochester. She says it is the best defense against the spread of disease.
(Kennett) “We want to be able to ensure consumer confidence in our dairy products and that is really, really vital to us, to be able to maintain consumer confidence.”
(Sciammacco) There are about 300 premises in Vermont registered in the voluntary program. But it has been a struggle nationwide to get small farmers to sign up.
(NATS) “We do have poule rouge.”
(Sciammaco) Pork and chicken producer Beverly Eggleston doesn’t see how he can benefit.
Unlike large operators, he runs his own processing plant on his farm. He then sells his packaged meats at a farmers market in Washington, D.C.
(Eggleston) “Their ID system will be another bureaucratic layer between the consumer and their food and the price for food.”
(Sciammacco) Farmers will have to pay to electronically tag or chip their animals.
The fear among some is that the program will cost too much and eventually become mandatory.
But Vermont Congressman Peter Welch says the program is not there, yet.
(Welch) “I think it makes sense to keep working on coming up with an approach that meets the needs of the farmers as well as the consumers so talking mandatory-voluntary is sort of pulling a trigger too soon.”
(Sciammacco) A new report by the Government Accountability Office raises serious concerns about how the system is being run.
That is why many farmers, even those who support the program like Kennett, have been reluctant to register.
(Kennett) “We have been waiting for them to work out the kinks and figure out exactly what it is they want to do with it and to me it was, you know, pretty simple.”
(Sciammacco) The GAO recommends the U.S. Department of Agriculture figure out a way to integrate state programs to keep costs down and focus on animals that pose serious risks.
Congress is pressuring the federal agency to implement changes. Agency officials have said they would.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Sara Sciammacco on Capitol Hill.