Most stakeholders in the U.S. beef industry agree that we need some kind of national system for tracking movement of cattle for disease intervention. Just what form that system should take, and what role producers should play is, well... a bit more contentious.
The proposed program is taking shape, with USDA releasing an update to its traceability plan in January, and a list of approved ID devices and suppliers in February of this year. In September 2010, the agency released its comprehensive plan, and since then took public comments and recommendations from its traceability regulation working group, resulting in the latest revisions. USDA projects the proposed rule on traceability will be published in April 2011, with the final rule published 12 to 15 months later.
In late August last year, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the U.S. Animal Health Association held a joint forum on traceability in Denver, with participation from producers, veterinarians, state and federal animal-health officials and industry organizations.
The forum was designed to promote open discussion of the plan, address challenges and build consensus on a path forward. Over the course of the forum, participants reached consensus on a number of issues, including the following:
• There is a significant need for more efficient and effective animal disease traceability in the United States.
• Feeder cattle identification should be required as soon as adequate benchmarks and baselines established indicate that identification of adult animals has been achieved.
• Inexpensive metal “Brite” tags are acceptable as a form of official identification as a baseline, but the option to use electronic identification shall continue to be allowed.
• Brands should be allowed as official identification; provided the two states (origin and destination) have agreement regarding movement and that the brand information provides the original point of origin.
Following the forum, NIAA and USAHA released a white paper titled “Reactions, Solutions and Consensus Joint Strategy Forum on Animal Disease Traceability,” which you can read online. In its revised plan released in January, USDA incorporated many of the recommendations presented in the white paper. Not everyone, however, agrees with those recommendations or the USDA’s plan. R-CALF USA this week distributed a news release titled “Deal breakers in USDA’s new Animal Disease Traceability Framework,” which attacks the decision to eventually require traceability for feeder cattle shipped across state lines as well as for older breeding cattle, and what the release terms “delisting brands from the current list of official identification devices.”
During the August forum, the issue of feeder cattle generated considerable discussion. Several participants expressed concern that requiring identification and records for interstate shipments of feeder cattle from the start would overwhelm the system and producers’ ability to comply. The group generally agreed, however, that a viable animal-disease traceability system eventually will need to include feeder cattle, which account for the bulk of cattle movements and much of the risk for spreading infectious disease. For these reasons, the group recommended a phased approach, allowing time to work the kinks out of the system before incorporating requirements for feeder cattle.
USDA adopted that recommendation, and the updated plan states “To gain support of the industry for the inclusion of the younger beef cattle sector in the official identification requirement when moving interstate, APHIS has established a phased-in approach.” The plan proposes starting with breeding cattle in 2012, assessing progress during 2013 and 2014 and moving toward ID for all cattle moving across state lines by 2015, if various performance standards are met.
As for identification methods, the plan specifies USDA official ear tags as the “de facto or minimum” standard for identification. These can be either visual or electronic tags using a 15-digit animal identification number starting with the U.S. country code of 840.
The plan does not, however, completely decertify brands as an ID method. The report states “The regulation will specify authorized forms of official identification for each species that must be accepted by all States and Tribes. However, we will also allow livestock to be moved between any two States or Tribes with another form of identification (such as branding, for example) as agreed on by animal health officials in the two jurisdictions.” The UDSA’s list of official AIN devices is available online.
Overall, USDA has worked, with participation from industry, to build a plan that is relatively simple, flexible and allows time for implementation and compliance. We’ll all be watching for release of the final plan in April, but success is far from assured. While the plan shifts most implementation responsibilities to states and tribes, it does call for federal funding – $14 million for 2011 – a tough sell in today’s economic climate.
“This information is not a budget request,” the report reads, “as it was not developed through the budget process. Future budget requests will be based on the availability of funds and Administration priorities.”