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Filling in the gaps, WLSB discusses state traceability programs

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Douglas – On Aug. 18 the Wyoming Livestock Board hosted a listening session at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds, with a focus on livestock disease traceability. Speakers shared experiences from states surrounding Wyoming, and an update was given on the new direction for national animal identification.
“Looking back, the need for filling the gaps in our identification programs has been seen for some time,” South Dakota State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven of Pierre, S.D. told those in attendance, mentioning that disease eradication programs for brucellosis and scrapie have historically spurred identification programs that have worked very well.
“That led to the rise and fall of NAIS (National Animal Identification System), with the good, the bad and the really ugly, and we’re now back to where we started,” he continued. “We realize we do have some needs for traceability of livestock to limit the impact of highly contagious and economically devastating diseases.”
In response, USDA has formed a working group to compose a new, state-based proposal. The group is composed of seven state animal health officials, five tribal representatives and a number of USDA staff who are writing a draft rule.
“It’s easy to do a necropsy and figure out there were a number of fundamental errors made,” said Colorado State Veterinarian Keith Roehr, a member of the USDA working group, of NAIS. “It was a bold move for USDA to say they wanted to trace back any animal disease in 48 hours. Now the program has been declared officially brain dead.”
Roehr said the new effort aims to create a system only applied to livestock moved between states. He noted that for most producers who already use some form of identification on their cattle, there will be no increased cost.
“There will be a number of options for official identification to move interstate,” he said, adding that brucellosis or production tags are acceptable but the basic identification method is a nine-character alphanumerical silver tag like those traditionally only distributed to vets.
“The backbone of the system would be that all cattle or bison moving interstate must be accompanied by a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI), which is really no different than today,” he said, noting that each CVI would be marked with each animal’s individual identification number.
It would be the producers’ responsibility to keep track of the tag numbers they’ve been issued and to maintain copies of their CVIs.
Both Roehr and John Honstead of USDA APHIS VS Western Region emphasized that the general livestock movement requirements could be exempted with individual, specific agreements between states and their animal health officials.
Of the use of brands in the identification system, Roehr said, “Our slaughter traceback systems operate on individual animal identification, and if there’s an animal of interest on the rail, it’s matched with a collection of eartags. Tracing that cow through brands would not work, as the hides are pulled off along the way and go through a hole in the floor, and storing those hides just doesn’t work with the packing industry.”
On the question of exporting feeder calves from Wyoming to another state, Roehr said they could possibly be identified on arrival, provided the numbers are recorded and matched with their origin, not the state in which they arrived. 
“Wyoming allows a lot of imported cattle to be identified on arrival. I don’t have a problem with that, as long as good records are kept,” said Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.
The role of USDA in the program would be one of funding, and evaluation, said Honstead. “USDA’s responsibilities would be to maintain the current identification systems and databases for tag distribution,” he said. “We’d also establish standards for defining the official identification on CVIs.”
“We’re committed this not be an unfunded mandate,” continued Honstead. “The commitment is there that we will pay for it, and the new rule will be outcome-based. We’re not going to every state to demand they have a program that fits federal standards. Instead, we’ll evaluate states on their ability to trace tags in a real system.”
Honstead said states could use any identification system they want, as long as it works. A tier of three statuses has been developed, based on states’ ability to accurately run a trace. “If a state’s ability is in the lower status, that doesn’t mean you can’t trade, you’ll just have a few more requirements,” he said, adding that the working group doesn’t yet know what those would be.
Roehr expects the draft rule to be proposed in April 2011, followed by a 12- to 15-month comment period, leading to a final rule around July 2012. “There would be a year for implementation, during which some exemptions would go away, so in 2013 the rule would be in place,” he said.
“Presently, the percentage of cattle identified at slaughter is 28 percent. Using that percentage, it begets an ineffective system. The ability to eradicate is not the legacy of state officials and veterinarians, but of the industry,” said Roehr. “We’re at a pivotal point where we can choose to live with the diseases and allow some reemergence, or we can try to effectively work toward an eradication system.”
“The last few cases of a disease are the hardest and the most expensive to get rid of,” noted Honstead.
“I’m a firm proponent of having some official identification in livestock,” said Logan. “And not because I want any information other that what I need to trace with. There’s no black helicopter I’ve seen from the federal or state side, and I hope as this progresses Wyoming will develop a good program that works for us.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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