Bill Passed in Missouri House Would Limit Public Access to Agricultural Data

By Brooke Semke and Rachel Foster-Gimbel

A bill passed in the Missouri House of Representatives on February 22, 2016 that would encourage animal health and environmental protection, by restricting public access to certain agricultural data. The bill has sparked a debate over public health and whether this restriction will benefit food safety or put it in jeopardy.

This is not the first time legislators have discussed this bill, but it is the first time it has passed the House. As it moves to the Senate, the question remains whether the bill will even be effective.

The bill’s goal is to close public access to data collected in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Disease Traceability program, with the hopes of attracting farmers and ranchers to participate. The program tracks diseased, exposed, and at-risk livestock to ensure a quick response if a disease outbreak were to occur.

The goal of the program is to have a preemptive, opposed to reactive, system for dealing with disease outbreaks, Manager Neil Hammerschmidt said.

Hammerschmidt explained that ADT was put in place to be proactive and build infrastructure on livestock disease outbreak.

The program targets all livestock, but specifically cattle and especially breeding animals, which are at the greatest risk for disease because they live the longest, Hammerschmidt said. The focus of the federal program is on interstate animal movement.

“The movement documents that we use, the interstate Certificates of Veterinary Inspection, have been utilized for many, many, many years,” Hammerschmidt said. “We’re just trying to make it more efficient by the use of electronic record-keeping systems. And all this information in ADT is administered at the local levels, where the states have the control and authority.”

Many ranchers travel and sell their livestock between different states, including Columbia rancher Jerry Lee. Lee works on his family-owned ranch with his son, Zachary Lee, and said they often go to Denver, Colorado to buy and sell bulls.

One of the problems with the program is a lack of involvement by farmers and ranchers. Because it is a voluntary program, cattle owners choose if they want to participate. Many farmers and ranchers are afraid of releasing their personal information or having their farm data taken advantage of by special interest groups, said Tom Hurst, R-Meta.

Missouri is one of 18 states in the country to have a law or bill like this.

However, even if this bill were to pass, Jerry Lee said he probably still wouldn’t participate in this program. His cattle already have permanent identification tags in their ears for when they travel.

“We’re all in this to make money; if we don’t take care of [our cattle], we don’t make money,” Lee said. “But this is just something else you got to do. There’s enough things to do the way it is.”

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