National Cattle ID Plan
By Jim Hamilton
Beef producers from throughout the area were in Springfield last Thursday, to learn about the impending National Identification Program affecting all types of livestock.
State Veterinarian Dr. Taylor Woods led a panel of three industry experts in livestock ID programs in the opening session of the annual Beef Producers Seminar hosted by University of Missouri Extension and the Southwest Missouri Beef Cattle Improvement Association.
Joining Dr. Woods in addressing the 85 cattle producers and guests were Dr. Lyndon Erwin, a professor in the agriculture department at Southwest Missouri State University for 33 years, and Mike John, vice-president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and spokesman for the MFA Inc. Health Track Beef Alliance.
Dr. Taylor Woods:
"As the state veterinarian I have known for 15 to 20 years that we needed a national ID program," Dr. Woods told the group. "It's nothing new for the Missouri Department of Agriculture to be involved in." The program has been built by 12 steering committees and has involved more than 100 people, he said.
He explained that the NIDP applies to all species of livestock, not just cattle.
When the program is implemented, livestock will have individual identification tags - eartags in cattle. "The radio frequency tag is the only one we've been able to get to work." The tags have the animal number imprinted on the back and can be read electronically by a radio frequency scanner as animals pass through working chutes.
Three events require animals to have ID tags: (1) when they enter commerce; (2) when they cross state lines; and (3) when they are commingled with other animals.
Some species - hogs, poultry and fish - may be identified by lots, rather than individual tags.
In addition to the individual ID numbers, every producer or processor will be issued a premise ID number. That number will correspond to the E-911 address of the producer.
Dr. Lyndon Erwin:
A sheep specialist, Dr. Erwin attempted to ease cattlemen's concerns by explaining that sheep and goat producers have been subject to a mandatory federal ID program for several years. "We heard a lot of doom and gloom, but in hindsight, very little of that happened."
The existing sheep and goat system does not provide traceback, as the new NIDP requires, but is a "starting point," Erwin said.
The goal of the ID system for all species is to have tags that can be read quickly, according to Dr. Erwin. Radio frequency tags have worked best. Implants, at this state of technology, represent a food safety concern because they tend to migrate under the skin.
Another issue is cost. "We want to insist on adequate funding for the state, since this is a federal program. We can't have technological glitches, and Dr. Woods is going to have to have more help. We're going to have to see federal money coming into the state."
John brought more salient numbers to the discussion, saying that creation of the ID program had "closer to 400 people involved."
The goal of the program is to provide 48-hour traceback of any animal to its farm of origin. The reason for the program, he explained, is that "the potential impact of a disease you can quarantine would be devastating."
He added, "The technology is far from perfect, but we're at the point of figuring how to use the technology we have."
The intent of the ID program is not for production management but to create a movement matrix, according to John. "What it's about is getting a tag in that animal when, if we don't, we lose that trail," he said. "Think of it in terms of tracing movement."
He also suggested that the least costly time to attach tags is at the ranch of origin. For small producers who may not have the handling facilities or equipment for tagging, "I'm quite sure there will be people out there to provide that service."
John also encouraged producers to use the tags as management tools and said the radio frequency ID is the "tag of choice."
He acknowledged privacy as an unresolved issue. As part of a national data base created with federal funds, animal movement numbers are an open record.
John also reiterated how the system would work for beef producers. Upon arriving at a livestock market, the owner would provide the market with his premise number, which would then be entered into a computer and recorded with his animals' individual ID numbers.
In an open question session following the presentations, Dr. Woods said Missouri would likely have 140,000 premise ID numbers, and the only time an individual would have more than one number would be if the other operation was in another state. Livestock markets will also have premise IDs, and the tags are required on cattle sold by private treaty.