Traceability’s next step: U.S. CattleTrace

Producer groups and others join forces to build an industry-wide system.

Wes Ishmael

February 29, 2020

5 Min Read

Few would disagree about the ongoing confusion surrounding the federal government’s faltering efforts to implement what is currently known as the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program.

Recently, USDA’s Animal Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for ADT, added another layer of bewilderment by quietly removing a fact sheet with a timeline for mandatory implementation of approved electronic identification (EID) from its website. Keep in mind, for beef cattle, ADT is currently mandatory only for certain adult cattle moving across state lines.

The subsequent APHIS statement added more murk, saying in part, “… Since the fact sheet was posted, APHIS has listened to the livestock industry’s feedback. In light of these comments and current executive branch policy, APHIS believes that we should revisit those guidelines. APHIS has removed the fact sheet from its website, as it is no longer representative of current agency policy.”

Depending on one’s leanings, some producers took it to mean USDA was taking a step back from moving ADT forward. Others thought it was merely a matter of shoring up details.

In the meantime, the absence of a standardized national system, with enough producer participation to make a difference, means the U.S. cattle industry remains vulnerable to the a foreign animal disease (FAD) that takes too long to track and contain. Never mind that ADT now ignores calves and feeder cattle moving interstate.

Related:U.S. CattleTrace advances cattle disease traceability

“History should serve as a warning to us. My message has been that three things are certain in life: death, taxes and mandatory traceability if we have a foreign animal disease,” says Brandon Depenbusch, chairman of the U.S. CattleTrace board of directors.

He’s alluding to the number of major beef-producing countries forced to contend with FADs over the past few decades, from foot-and-mouth in Europe and South America to bovine spongiform encephalopathy here and around the world.

This vulnerability is the impetus behind what some likely consider cattle producers’ strongest step yet in developing a practical disease traceability system.

Advancing traceability

Toward the end of January, industry organizations undertaking traceability pilot projects based in Kansas, Texas and Florida announced they were partnering to launch U.S. CattleTrace (USCT), a voluntary disease traceability initiative with the goal to develop a national infrastructure for disease traceability and to encourage private industry use of the infrastructure for individual management practices.

Related:Modernizing animal disease traceability will continue

“Cattle disease traceability is a top priority in the beef cattle industry, and this partnership will continue to help guide the development of an enhanced traceability system in the United States,” explains Jim Lovell, a past chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA).

“Our different state projects have always had a similar goal in mind — to develop a disease traceability system that works across the country. Combining our efforts makes this initiative stronger on a national level.”

For the record, the CattleTrace pilot project based in Kansas — one of the building blocks of USCT — includes partnerships with USDA and state departments of agriculture in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Other partners include auction markets in Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Virginia; cattle feeding organizations with feedyards in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington; and three of the four largest beef packing companies. Combined, these businesses have EID readers installed in seven states.

At last fall’s CattleTrace Industry Symposium, Depenbusch explained, “CattleTrace is a producer initiative to build a national disease traceability infrastructure that captures information as animals flow through the supply chain, and automatically sends it to a single database for the purpose of disease traceability.”

Similarly, the Traceability Pilot, based in Texas, is an industry-driven, individual identification program that facilitates disease traceability, provides opportunities for value-added premiums negotiated by business-to-business partnerships throughout the cattle-beef supply chain, and operates at the speed of commerce.

It is a partnership among TCFA, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association and the Florida Cattlemen’s Association (FCA). FCA has been conducting its own auction-barn traceability pilot study as well.

Keep in mind that none of the organizations involved sought ownership of a national initiative then or now. They’ve been searching for solutions that benefit the industry as a whole. Now, they’re working together as one.

“With producers and industry stakeholders working together from across the country, the U.S. CattleTrace partnership will be a catalyst to build upon the CattleTrace foundation we established in the past few years,” Depenbusch says. “We encourage other state organizations and individual producers to join our efforts in building a nationally significant animal disease traceability system for the United States. By working together, we will build something that works for the industry.”


When Depenbusch talks to producers, he emphasizes USCT is a  producer-driven program that will comply with any federal program requirements, but is not a government program. He also stresses privacy of participant data. The database is privately owned. Plus, electronic readers collect only four pieces of data: the official animal identification number, as well as the time, date and GPS location of where the tag is read.

Volunteer leaders from each of the USCT partner organizations agreed to a set of guiding principles:

Protein market protection. To protect the producers’ share of the protein market from the potential impact of a disease event, cattle identification and traceability needs to be enacted, enhanced and further developed using EID and electronic transfer of data.

Voluntary national traceability. U.S. CattleTrace is focused on developing a voluntary national traceability system to include all cattle and complement current USDA regulations.

Domestic and foreign significance. The goal is to build a system that is recognized as nationally significant to all domestic and foreign markets.

Equitability for all industry segments. The U.S. CattleTrace disease traceability system strives to be equitable to all industry segments, and must be industry-driven and managed by a producer board of directors to ensure data privacy and protection.

One technology for U.S. traceability system. U.S. CattleTrace supports the use of one technology for a United States cattle industry disease traceability system to maximize the value of technology investment. Since multiple electronic identification technologies are in use today, U.S. CattleTrace will accept data in a standardized electronic format from available technologies, but supports a transition to ultra-high-frequency technology. 

For more information about U.S. CattleTrace, including details on how to get involved, visit

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