Animal Disease Traceability: What Comes Next?

Current animal disease traceability (ADT) rules have generally succeeded as a first step, but traceability will need to expand and improve in the future to meet domestic and international consumer expectations. That was a common message last week, when industry representatives and state and federal animal-health officials gathered for the 2017 Strategy Forum on Livestock Traceability Forum in Denver. The National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) and the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) sponsored the forum.

The current ADT rules, which took effect in January 2013, require use of official identification for certain classes of cattle moving across state lines. The current law focuses on cattle of breeding age and dairy cattle, with a variety of exemptions for other classes. Also, when USDA designed the current rule, they included provisions for states to reach agreements on the types of identification and documentation required for covered livestock crossing their borders.

“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 the 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.”

Over the spring and summer of 2017, the USDA hosted a series of public meetings to solicit stakeholder feedback on the existing program and the next steps. During the forum, USDA outlined the feedback they have received on the current system, its weaknesses and future evolution of the program. Some key points include:

  • Technology: The current system allows visual tags, including metal National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES) tags, also known as “brite” tags, as official identification. These tags provide a low-cost option, but manual reading of the ID numbers slows commerce and potentially leads to transcription errors. The general consensus seems to favor a full transition to electronic radio frequency ID (RFID) tags for official identification.
  • Intrastate movement: The federal program now requires ID and movement documents for covered livestock crossing state lines. Some stakeholders believe some movements within states, such as events in which cattle are comingled during marketing, should be included.
  • Price and privacy: Cost, potential liability and public access of data remain as key concerns among producers.
  • Brands: Brands remain a useful tool for disease traceability back to the herd of origin as well as theft deterrence, but are not adequate for tracking individual cattle through multiple locations and production stages.
  • Disease control only: ADT identification and documentation should remain separate from those used for cattle management or for marketing programs.
  • Exemptions: The current system does not cover beef feeder cattle, which represent the largest number of cattle moving in interstate commerce and potentially the greatest risk for transmission of disease. Most stakeholders agree, however, that the exemption should remain in place for now, due to logistical and financial challenges. Also, the current system does not include cattle shipped directly to approved slaughter facilities. Sometimes however, cattle shipped for slaughter end up being re-sold for breeding, creating confusion over the documentation needed for movement.
  • Auction markets: Sale barns often bear undue burdens and expense in helping customers comply with ADT rules. Sellers often do not know whether their cattle will move across state lines, and veterinarians are not always available at the sale to issue interstate certificates of veterinary inspection (ICVI).
  • Funding: Any expansion of the program, or requirements such as uniform use of electronic tags, will require financial support from government, industry or some combination.

A state and federal ADT working group, comprised mostly of USDA and state animal-health officials, has developed a list of preliminary recommendations on key issues as identified through the public listening sessions. The recommendations are not yet publicly available, pending internal review at USDA/APHIS. Once reviewed, the recommendations will be subject to public comment.