Traceability: From Gate to Plate

Kansas pilot project aims at improving cattle traceability. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Traceability in the U.S. beef industry lags behind other global competitors. Australia launched its National Livestock Identification System in 1999, helping the island country gain a foothold in the European Union and Asian markets. Uruguay and New Zealand are a few other major beef exporters who have started cattle traceability systems in the past decade. Those countries all began traceability in their cattle herds to help monitor diseases in an effort to reduce the risk of an outbreak.

Meanwhile, adoption of traceability systems for cattle in the U.S. haven’t been taken on nationally or even at the state level, but producers do have an interest in securing the beef supply. A recent study conducted by World Perspectives, Inc. surveying more than 600 beef industry members found that 57% of producers support animal identification at the ranch of origin. The study also revealed 62% of producers support the idea that information generated by an animal identification and traceability system should be made available to government entities in the event of a disease outbreak.

Cattle traceability may soon have a framework in the U.S. thanks to a pilot project that is being led in Kanas. A public-private partnership called Cattle Trace has the aim to test and develop a cattle disease traceability infrastructure in Kansas that can be used as an example nationally.

“We have the opportunity to develop a cattle disease traceability system on our terms. The capabilities of Cattle Trace will enable us to do the right thing for animal health and biosecurity, and for the entire U.S. beef cattle industry,” says Brandon Depenbusch, vice president of cattle operations for Innovative Livestock Services (ILS), a cattle feeding group with nine yards in Kansas and Nebraska.

Ultra-high frequency technologies will be utilized in Cattle Trace to collect the minimal data necessary, including an individual animal identification number, a GPS location, and date and time, in order to track animals in the event of a disease outbreak.

At least ten feedlots plan to participate in the pilot project along with ILS. The project will also include participation from livestock markets, cow-calf ranches and beef processors who will have tag readers to monitor cattle movement. Beginning in fall 2018, movement data will be collected and the project plans to continue for approximately two years.

“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,” says Brad White, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. “We are working to build a system to test today and one that will serve the U.S. beef cattle industry in the future.”

CattleTrace is a collaborative partnership between Kansas State University, the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA), the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA), USDA and individual producers. Funding is coming both from the public and private sector. 

“KLA members have long recognized the importance of traceability for animal disease purposes to help protect their livelihoods and the industry,” says Matt Teagarden, Chief Executive Officer of KLA. “We are excited to be part of this effort to move traceability forward for Kansas producers and ultimately the entire U.S. livestock sector.”

In 2017, KLA members amended policy to support mandatory cattle disease traceability for all ages of cattle.

“The development of CattleTrace is a direct result of proactive leaders in the Kansas beef industry recognizing an opportunity to develop a traceability system that works for producers,” says Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey. “We have seen tremendous leadership from industry partners ready to step up and take an active role on this critical issue.”

“We are proud that the Kansas beef industry has taken the lead in this important project that will enhance our ability to protect cattle health here and across the nation,” says Governor Jeff Colyer.