USDA issues final rule for animal disease traceability

Dec 21, 2012

USDA announced a final rule establishing general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate.

“With the final rule announced [last week], the United States now has a flexible, effective animal disease traceability system for livestock moving interstate, without undue burdens for ranchers and U.S. livestock businesses,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“The final rule meets the diverse needs of the countryside where states and tribes can develop systems for tracking animals that work best for them and their producers, while addressing any gaps in our overall disease response efforts. Over the past several years, USDA has listened carefully to America’s farmers and ranchers, working collaboratively to establish a system of tools and safeguards that will help us target when and where animal diseases occur, and help us respond quickly,” Vilsack said Under the final 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 ownershipper statements or brand certificates.

After considering the public comments received, the final rule has several differences from the proposed rule issued in August 2011. These include:

• Accepting the use of brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by the shipping and receiving States or Tribes

• Permanently maintaining the use of backtags as an alternative to official eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter

• Accepting movement documentation other than an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving States or Tribes

• Clarifying that all livestock moved interstate to a custom slaughter facility are exempt from the regulations

• Exempting chicks moved interstate from a hatchery from the official identification requirements.

Beef cattle under 18 months of age, unless they are moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos, or recreational events, are exempt from the official identification requirement in this rule. These specific traceability requirements for this group will be addressed in separate rulemaking, allowing the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to work closely with industry to ensure the effective implementation of the identification requirements.

For more specific details about the regulation and how it will affect producers, visit traceability.

Animal disease traceability, or knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they’ve been, and when, is very important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events take place, according to USDA. 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.

USDA introduced the proposed new rules in August of 2011, saying they would lead to greater compliance and improve the country’s ability to market its livestock products overseas.

Previous attempts to mandate a national animal identification system have failed for a number of reasons, including lack of flexibility. Vilsack said the previous lessons and stakeholder input were key components of the rule.

The initial industry response to the original proposed rule has been mostly positive, with most groups noting the importance of a rapid and accurate traceback system. In the event of an animal disease outbreak, it will be vitally important to contain the disease and maintain the integrity of the food chain for both domestic and international consumers. For years, concerns about a potential future outbreak of animal diseases such as foot and mouth disease have been cited among the most important reasons for having such a system in place.

“Cattlemen’s top priority is raising healthy cattle. As such, NCBA is supportive of an ADT [animal disease traceability] program for cattle health purposes. That is why NCBA has been an industry leader working diligently with other cattle groups and USDA’s APHIS to ensure cattlemen’s concerns are addressed in a new ADT program,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Veterinarian Elizabeth Parker, in August of 2011.

Some form of a traceability plan has been in the process for years, and many producers believe it wasn’t a matter of if, but when, on a final ruling.

The 2011 announcement of the proposed rules came 18 months after USDA had abandoned a program intended to trace the movement of farm animals across the country and said it would begin work on plans for a more flexible program to be administered by the states and tribal nations. A voluntary program implemented in 2004 to pinpoint an animal’s location within 48 hours after a disease outbreak was poorly received with just 36 percent of farmers and ranchers participating in 2009.

The notice is expected to be published in the Dec. 28 Federal Register. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor