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WASHINGTON - Democrats on Tuesday pressed Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to swiftly produce a plan to identify individually each of America's 96 million cattle.
The request came just a day after the Food and Drug Administration announced several new safeguards to prevent mad cow. Those included banning animal blood in cattle feed, and keeping dietary supplements and cosmetics free of materials from cattle too sick or hurt to walk.
"After five weeks of intensive investigation, we have located only 28 of the 81 cows that entered the United States from Canada with the infected cow," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. "If we had an animal ID system, USDA could have located those cattle in a matter of hours, or, at the longest, days."
Veneman said the Agriculture Department is trying to develop "a verifiable system of national animal identification." An international committee of experts reviewing the government's handling of the case is looking at animal identification among other issues and is to start preparing a report in a couple of weeks, she said.
Current tracing methods based on ear tags are inadequate, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., because America's one known mad cow had only an ear tag for identification. "The BSE discovery has demonstrated the need for a national animal identification system," he said.
Veneman acknowledged that tracing the infected Holstein by an ear tag caused delays in her department's investigation.
Defending the cattle industry, Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, said the government should approach establishing a nationwide ID system for animals with "a great deal of caution" and should ensure that the eventual program "not be overly cumbersome and intrusive to U.S. cattle operations."
Meanwhile, Democrats introduced legislation Tuesday to put into law new regulations and procedures announced last month by Veneman, including a national animal ID system.