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Mandatory ID

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Jul 21, 2017

Pete Crow

It appears that a national animal identification system may be coming back around. A mandatory animal ID program was pitched five or six years ago by the USDA but was soundly rejected by cattle producers as being expensive and not functional. USDA had to settle for a watered-down program called animal disease traceability (ADT). It appears that they’re ready to go further.

Last week at the NCBA mid-year meeting that topic was being mentioned quite a bit, and folks were careful when using the word mandatory.

Our friends at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) think it’s important enough to hold a strategy forum on livestock traceability this September in Denver. They want to revisit the mandatory ID system that was pretty well shot down five years ago.

Over the past few months USDA staff have been traveling around the country conducting ID workshops in an attempt to gauge producer temperament toward livestock disease traceability efforts.

They found out that there still isn’t a lot of interest in the program. I’m sure that USDA is looking at the potential beef trade with China, considering that a source and age component would fit right in with the current disease aspect and allow them to expand the program.

Last year, USDA’s Chief Veterinarian Jack Shere suggested at an NIAA meeting that it’s time to close the gaps that exist in our animal disease traceability program, and one of those gaps is feeder cattle.

“We’ve got to get the cattle industry to get us over the hump. If they want to trade in these international markets, they’re going to have to identify some of these feeder cattle that are going to be in the trading channels,” Shere said.

“There’s always been a struggle among the industry and the states and the federal government about what should be in the program,” he added. “We need to work together because if we’re going to have access to the markets, we’ve got to have a uniform program that we can demonstrate—from an audit fashion—to these international folks when they come in, that we have a traceability program. Otherwise, we’ll be excluded.”

NCBA has asked a few land-grant universities to make proposals to do a feasibility study on resuming the idea of mandatory animal identification. It’s part of their long-range plan for the beef industry, but their policy book says they do not support a mandatory program.

I certainly think that the industry already does enough source and age verification to fulfill those market requirements for now. It appears that there is a lot more interest in these third-party companies that do that type of work. We all know that the NHTC programs would fit the Chinese protocol, and dairy steer programs can easily adjust to it.

Has the industry come around to the idea that mandatory animal ID might be the right thing to do? Most cattle producers already do some identification. Back in 2012 cattlemen were concerned about data privacy, essentially the government knowing too much about your operation, which I get. Some were worried about future liability. Cost was an issue at the time, but costs have come down to where an EID tag costs about $3 apiece. Today most ranchers ID cattle for management reasons.

Then we must look at the disease component of this program. NCBA is supporting a foot-andmouth (FMD) disease vaccine bank in the next farm bill, which would cost the government $1.2 million. We’ve been able to keep FMD out of the U.S. for the past 90 years, so we’re doing something right. Last week a BSE cow was found in the Southeast at an auction market by visual surveillance, so that system is working. Brucellosis seems to show up from time to time and those cows generally come from brucellosis-prone areas. The cattle business hasn’t had to deal with many major disease outbreaks like avian influenza or the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus that hit the hog industry.

So, are you all ready to go down this road again? It’s coming. USDA sure seems to think we need it. I think NCBA wants to get behind it. They need a good new project to get behind. Would it be the right thing to do? It seems to me if you can expand your marketing options it’s the right thing to do. If you’re already tagging your calves, you’re 90 percent there, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal. — PETE CROW

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