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What's Your Take On USDA's Proposed Animal ID Program?

preg-check.jpg On Aug. 9, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a proposed rule, called the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) Program, that would establish general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate when animal disease events take place.

ADT would be mandatory upon implementation, unlike its predecessor voluntary program, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). According to USDA officials, under the proposed rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock moved interstate would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates. The proposed rule encourages the use of low-cost technology and specifies approved forms of official identification for each species, such as metal ear tags for cattle. However, recognizing the importance and prevalence of other identifications in certain regions, shipping and receiving states or tribes are permitted to agree upon alternative forms of identification such as brands or tattoos.USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is seeking comments on the proposed ADT rule. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Nov. 9.

A practical, workable and cost-effective animal identification program has been a decade in the making, and Richard Bowman, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) identification chairman, offers these conclusions about the proposed rule.

“Now that the proposed rule has been released, it’s time to go through the wording with a microscope and examine for changes nuances or problems that might now exist. I sat in on many of the stakeholder conferences calls with USDA, and I believe they took our advice into consideration. The biggest difference between this program and previously proposed ones is that veterinarians helped shape the protocol, whereas before, it was more of the technology industry making the push to sell their electronic identification tags,” says Bowman, a North Dakota veterinarian and rancher.

Bowman explains the simplicity of the program and how cattle will be tagged with metal identification clips, similar to ones currently used for brucellosis vaccinations in heifers. The tag will have a state number, along with three letters and four digits.

“The tags themselves are quite inexpensive, but the real expense will be the time it takes to to read the tags and record the numbers. It’s all manual reading, but that’s the way it’s always been. I don’t believe it will be more difficult; there will just more critters with tags to read. Identifying our livestock will be critical to trace diseases such as tuberculosis, which still crops up on occasion here in the U.S. Being able to manage these diseases is an important step for the beef industry. Over the years, because of successes in other government programs such as brucellosis vaccinations, tags have helped to pretty much eradicate this disease. Because of this, many have quit vaccinating and tagging these cattle, so trace-back now is almost impossible. The metal tags will help officials to trace back disease to its origin at a more rapid rate and be able to test animals in a certain herd instead of an entire region. In the past, we could get back to a region, but we didn’t know where the animal originated from, so they had to test a huge number of animals,” Bowman says.

Of course, Bowman admits there are some flaws to the proposed rule.

“The downside to the metal tags will be the added time it takes producers to identify these cattle and the cost if they need to have them read by a veterinarian before cattle are shipped. The problem all along is that it’s a government-run program and that scared people. This new plan is a more practical, commonsense approach that will benefit the entire beef industry. This is something the industry has been looking for for almost a decade. It’s been a long time coming. We just have to monitor the progress and work with our regulatory officials to get things implemented without too much hassle for ranchers. Veterinarians like myself will continue to work with USDA officials to take care of any kinks and come up with solutions as they arise,” he adds.

Do you agree with Bowman’s assessment of USDA’s ADT? If so, what do you like about the proposed rule? If not, what is the solution to tracing animal diseases in the U.S. beef herd?