Disease Traceability: Better Late than Never

The management team for the CattleTrace pilot project includes (From Left) Kansas Animal Health Commissioner Justin Smith, DVM, Program Coordinator Cassie Kniebel and Brad White, DVM, MS, Director of K-State’s Beef Cattle Institute. ( Kansas State University )

Back in 2003, the USDA formed a national working group with representatives from across the livestock industry to hammer out a preliminary plan for a traceability system to enable a rapid, targeted response in the case of an outbreak of infectious disease such as foot and mouth disease (FMD). That working group developed the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP), which evolved into USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in 2004. Grass-roots resistance to NAIS grew, and the program never gained traction. 

Nearly a decade later, in 2013, USDA launched its Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system, a useful but extremely limited program that remains in place today. The current ADT program focuses on interstate movement of breeding–age cattle, 18 months of age or older, and dairy cattle. The program exempts beef calves and feeder cattle, which travel in the greatest numbers and pose the greatest risk for spreading disease as they move through marketing channels and co-mingle with cattle from multiple sources.

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. In September, USDA officials discussed the results of those meetings during a strategy forum hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the U.S. Animal Health Association.

Based on public feedback, a state and federal ADT working group has developed a list of preliminary recommendations on key issues, including a shift toward exclusive use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices for official animal ID and eventually, inclusion of feeder-cattle movements.

USDA intends to focus initially on a “bookend” system for livestock entering interstate commerce, with assignment of animal identification and tracking capabilities for the farm or ranch of origin and retirement of those ID numbers at slaughter. Eventually, the system would provide traceability through every movement and production stage from birth to slaughter.

The state of Kansas, meanwhile, is moving forward with its “CattleTrace” pilot program, a public-private collaboration focused on ranch-to-slaughter traceability for disease surveillance and intervention. In December 2017, the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) voted for policy supporting mandatory cattle disease traceability for all ages of cattle, which provided momentum for the program.

In addition to the KLA, CattleTrace partners include Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, USDA, and individual producer stakeholders. It is being jointly funded by public and private resources.

Participants plan to enroll and track about 55,000 cattle over the next two years, using ultra-high-frequency (UHF) tags and readers, which allow users to quickly capture individual ID numbers from groups of cattle. The program’s planners designed the system to collect the minimum of necessary information for tracking in a disease outbreak – just an individual animal ID number, a GPS location, date and time.

Narrow Focus

The CattleTrace program has three primary objectives:

  1. Develop a purpose-built infrastructure for an animal disease traceability system.
  2. Evaluate the efficiency and capabilities of the animal disease traceability system and infrastructure.
  3. Determine the value of an animal disease traceability system throughout the supply chain.

Brad White, DVM, MS, Director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, says CattleTrace developers have intentionally kept the plan as simple as possible, with a narrow focus on disease traceability. “We know for a traceability system to be effective, it needs to be simple, fast, and affordable to make its adoption within the industry as seamless as possible,” he says.

The pilot project, White says, will help determine if the system can efficiently track all classes of cattle, including feeder cattle, moving within Kansas or across state lines, while also evaluating program costs across the entire production system.


Program organizers, he adds, currently are recruiting cow-calf producers to enroll cattle in the pilot project, with tagging and tracking beginning this fall and continuing through 2019.

Cassie Kniebel serves as program coordinator for CattleTrace. She says cooperators including feedyard, auction packing facilities, are presently installing UHF readers for use in the program. CattleTrace RFID tags are shipping to participants with a goal of tagging 55,000 cattle over two years. Kniebel says data collection will begin this fall, with the pilot project wrapping up by the spring of 2020.

Kansas ranchers and cattle feeders, Kniebel adds, generally have expressed positive interest and offered encouraging feedback. They increasingly understand the need for a comprehensive disease-traceability system, and appreciate the way the system limits data collection to just the information needed for its animal-health and food-security goals.

Veterinarian Participation

As Kansas Animal Health Commissioner, Justin Smith, DVM, leads the Animal Health Division of the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA), and serves on the CattleTrace steering committee. His office has responsibilities for maintaining Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVIs), disease surveillance and intervention. As a joint effort between state and private entities, he sees CattleTrace as a means to streamline those efforts.

Veterinarians, Smith says, can help inform and educate their clients about the system and the importance of disease traceability. But, he stresses that the system’s “hands-free” design will not require any added input or paperwork from veterinarians. They’ll continue conducting health inspections and filing CVIs as they do now, while the traceability system runs in the background.

While the CattleTrace system focuses entirely on tracking for disease mitigation, program organizers say producers or groups could voluntarily repurpose and share data between market segments for value-adding applications up and down the production chain. Smith says veterinarians, as some do today, could provide a service by helping design those systems and analyzing data to apply toward value-based breeding, management and marketing strategies. 

The CattleTrace system has good potential to serve as a model for expansion of the national ADT program. The KLA policy demonstrates growing recognition of the need for traceability among cattle producers, and today’s technology can enable full traceability with more speed, accuracy, efficiency and security compared with anything we discussed back in 2003. 

For more information on CattleTrace, visit www.cattletrace.org.


USDA Envisions Future of ADT Program

During a recent National Institute for Animal Agriculture conference, USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Gregory Ibach delivered a keynote address on the future of the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system. Ibach stressed that USDA intends to collaborate with industry and commodity groups in advancing the ADT system, with an emphasis on protecting animal health and food safety while also benefiting producers. He outlined three critical “legs” to the USDA’s efforts toward protecting the food supply.

  1. Prevention, preparedness and response: This includes developing systems and standards for biosecurity, surveillance and disease detection, training and outreach and rapid response plans. Previous disease outbreaks, such as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) have illustrated a need for logistics planning.
  2. National Animal Health Laboratory Network: Ibach discussed a need for rapid diagnostic services at close proximity to produces.
  3. Vaccine Bank: An expanded national vaccine bank for foot and mouth disease (FMD) and other diseases.

Ibach stressed that prevention is a first priority, and noted that traceability plays a key role in surveillance and response capabilities. USDA, he says, intends to leave traceability technology and mechanics up to individual states, while focusing federal efforts on the information needed to achieve their disease-response goals. USDA will issue requests for proposals from states detailing biosecurity and traceability plans. Qualification for federal indemnity programs will depend on states implementing approved plans for traceability.

USDA intends to focus initially on a “bookend” system for livestock entering interstate commerce, with assignment of animal identification and tracking capabilities for the farm or ranch of origin and retirement of those ID numbers at slaughter. Eventually, the system would provide traceability through every movement and production stage.