Texas announces details of new cattle traceability rule

Oct 12, 2012

While some ag organizations have been busy fighting USDA’s national animal traceability program, officials in Texas have taken matters into their own hands, putting together their own state traceability program that may set a precedent for future national plans.

A new requirement for adult cattle in Texas to have an approved form of permanent identification in place at change of ownership will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).

TAHC amended its rules in June of this year to enhance the effective traceability of beef cattle movements in Texas. Implementation of the changes was delayed by the commission to ensure cattle producers understand the requirements and can prepare for the changes, TAHC announced in a press release.

The amended rule permanently cancels the brucellosis test requirement for adult cattle at change of ownership, which was unofficially suspended in the summer of 2011. Although testing of adult cattle is no longer required with the rule change, all sexually intact cattle, parturient or post parturient, or 18 months of age and older changing ownership must still be officially identified with commission-approved permanent identification.

This change primarily affects beef cattle, as dairy cattle in Texas have had an even more stringent identification requirement in place since 2008.

Before August of 2011, official identification devices such as eartags were applied automatically at the time a brucellosis test was performed. The inadvertent loss of the identification devices applied to cattle when brucellosis testing stopped has threatened TAHC’s ability to effectively trace cattle as part of any ongoing disease investigation.

TAHC routinely performs cattle health investigations where the identification and location of exposed/infected animals is critical to success. For example, 30 brucellosis reactors, over 300 bovine trichomoniasis affected bulls, and 22 bovine tuberculosis cases have been investigated by TAHC to date in 2012. The new traceability rule will help preserve TAHC’s ability to identify and trace animal movements quickly and effectively, no matter which disease is involved.

A complete list of acceptable identification devices/methods may be found at www.tahc.state. tx.us, but the most commonly used devices include USDA metal tags, brucellosis calfhood vaccination tags, US origin 840 series Radio Frequency Identification tags (RFID), and breed registration tattoos or firebrands. Producers are encouraged to contact their veterinarian or TAHC to determine which method of tagging will  be best for their operation.

Free USDA metal tags, and a limited number of free applicator pliers (dependent on available funding) will be provided by TAHC to producers wishing to use them.

The tags and/or pliers may be obtained by contacting local TAHC field staff and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Veterinary Services representatives. TAHC is developing tag distribution partnerships with interested veterinary practitioners and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension offices. Partner contact information will be published as it becomes available. Producers may locate the closest tag distributor online at www.tahc.state.tx.us.

Over a year ago, APHIS issued a proposed rule to establish general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate when animal disease events take place. 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 eartags 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.

Animal disease traceability, or knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they’ve been, and when, is very important to make sure there can be a rapid response when animal disease events take place, according to APHIS. An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps reduce the number of animals involved in an investigation, reduces the time needed to respond, and decreases the cost to producers and the government.

In late September, RCALF, Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Food & Water Watch, and several other organizations sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging for the identification program to be halted, in part due to the nationwide drought and the resulting crisis faced by so many farmers and ranchers.

“This is the worst widespread drought since the 1930’s Dust Bowl,” said Gilles Stockton, a Montana rancher and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “As our ranchers struggle to keep the herds alive through this disaster, they cannot afford to take on new regulatory burdens.”

The letter to OMB claims that USDA’s fiscal analysis significantly underestimated the cost impacts of its rule to both cattle and poultry producers.

The APHIS notice was published in the Federal Register in Aug. 2011, and comments were taken until Nov. 9, 2011, but a final ruling has yet to be made. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor