Although animal disease traceability (ADT) became a fact of life for U.S. beef producers and veterinarians in March 2013, some implementation details remain in the “hammering out” stage.

ADT: The devil’s in the detailsThis week’s Joint Strategy Forum on Animal Disease Traceability focused largely on harmonizing the compliance process across states and tribes, to facilitate market efficiency while achieving the program’s goals of traceability for timely and effective intervention in case of a disease event. 

A key feature of the ADT rule is the USDA has turned implementation and management over to individual states and tribes, meaning that within the rule’s guidelines, states can choose their requirements for cattle coming in and can negotiate agreements with other states on types of documentation they will accept. That feature allows considerable flexibility for state animal-health officials to craft a system that works for their producers, but also creates potential confusion or compliance challenges for producers, veterinarians and market personnel.

The forum, hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) and the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA), brought together state veterinarians, USDA officials and industry representatives to discuss the current status of ADT and ongoing work to streamline the process.

The ADT rule requires identification for certain classes of cattle destined for interstate shipment. All sexually intact cattle 18 months of age or older fall under the rule, as do dairy-breed cattle of any age or sex, and all cattle transported to shows, exhibits or rodeos.  Beef calves and feeder cattle less than 18 months of age are not covered by the rule. APHIS has stated its intention to address those classes of cattle in a separate, future rulemaking process.

Covered classes of cattle moving across state lines need official identification and documentation. The default or “gold-standard” documentation is the Interstate Veterinary Certificate of Inspection (ICVI). Some other documents such as brand-inspection certificates can work in place of the ICVI if the shipping and receiving states have agreed upon the documents. Likewise, in addition to official ear tags, brands or breed-registry tattoos can meet program requirements if the shipping and receiving states have such an agreement. The ADT General Standards document contains detailed information about ID devices and numbering systems.

Kicking off the forum, John Clifford, DVM, who serves as deputy administrator and chief veterinary officer in Veterinary Services at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said USDA’s current focus is on outreach and education to aid implementation at the state level, rather than enforcement. Eventually though, USDA will lead the enforcement effort for the mandatory program.

USDA currently is engaged in pilot testing systems for recording and retiring animal ID numbers at packing plants. Clifford also acknowledged that funding for the federal portion of the program remains in question as the Congress and White House battle over a stalled budget process.

To unravel some of the variability in the ways individual states are administering the ADT system, USDA, in cooperation with NIAA, USAHA and the Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) recently conducted a survey of state animal-health regulatory offices. Ohio State Veterinarian Tony Forshey summarized the results, based on responses from 41 of 50 states.

  • 34 states distribute NUES (National Uniform Eartagging System) tags, also known as metal or “brite” tags, to producers.
  • 39 states have electronic ICVIs available.
  • 25 states have commuter herd agreements with other states, 23 have alternative ID agreements and 20 have agreements for movement documents other than ICVI and owner/shipper statements (OSS).
  • 19 states accept brands as official identification; five accept them in all cases and 14 in limited cases.
  • 31 states accept breed registries as official identification, 15 in all cases and 11 in limited cases.
  • All the responding states indicated “yes” or “yes unless exempt” when asked whether they require official identification for classes of cattle specified in the ADT rule entering their states.
  • Some indicated they require official identification for cattle not covered by the rule. For example, nine states indicated they require official identification on steers and spayed heifers below 18 months of age entering their states and 16 indicated the same for sexually intact beef animals under 18 months of age.
  • 23 of the responding states indicated they have official identification requirements for cattle moving within their states.

Throughout the forum, it became clear that regional differences in the ways cattle are marketed, and the role of market facilities, influence the ways states administer ADT and cooperate with neighboring states. Cows in large Western herds, for example, might only move through a market once in their lives, but might ship to that market in relatively large numbers when managers cull herds. In the Southeast, cows could walk the action ring multiple times and typically go to market in small lots.

Many of the smaller auction facilities, particularly in the East and Southeast, do not have a veterinarian on hand throughout the sale, or in some cases, ever. Instead, they rely on state or federally accredited technicians to monitor the health of cattle arriving at the facility. Several state veterinarians from Southeastern states noted they have reached cooperative agreements with neighboring states to allow movement of cattle with alternative official documents instead of the ICVI.

Several Western brand states have indicated they have reached agreements with neighboring states to use brands, along with the ICVI, for interstate movement.

These discussions led to a general consensus among participants that regional harmonization of ADT policies might be more realistic than national harmonization, with groups of neighboring states developing agreements that fit for their producers and markets.

USDA provides a list of links to each state’s import regulations at APHIS.USDA.Gov.

Another point of consensus was that outreach and education will be critical in the coming months and years, as many producers and veterinarians remain unclear on the details and requirements of ADT. Some of that outreach will come from the federal level, but much of it will need to occur at the state level due to account for each state’s import and export policies.

Auction markets will serve as key resources for implementation of ADT across the country. Many serve as official tagging stations, stockyard veterinarians issue and manage ICVI documents and sale managers are becoming well versed in ADT requirements and the specific requirements of states to which sale cattle might be shipped.

Several state veterinarians and other participants pointed out that ADT requirements are not that much different from management and marketing practices that, in many cases, have been in use for decades, such as official identification for disease-control programs, sale facilities collecting information on buyers, sellers and livestock, and veterinarians inspecting animals and issuing health certificates. With time, effort and perhaps a little patience, we should be able to make ADT work.