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Animal Traceback

Casper – May 14 and Aug. 13 will serve as the dates for two public hearings the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) is planning to conduct regarding disease preparedness.
    WLSB Chief Executive Officer Jim Schwartz, during a Feb. 25 conference call, told board members he doesn’t want to see the hearings focus only on the USDA’s National Animal Identification System. “I want to find out what the industry would like to see happen,” he said. Formation of a program that meets Wyoming’s needs and works in the event of an animal disease outbreak will be the focus of the meetings.
    The first meeting will take place in Riverton on May 14. A second hearing will be held in Douglas on Aug. 13 during the Wyoming State Fair. That afternoon WLSB officials will make a report to attendees at the annual Cattlemen’s Conference, sponsored by the Roundup and Double S Feeders, on the outcome of the public hearings.
    Attendees at the May 14 hearing will also have the opportunity to comment on the WLSB’s Chapter 8 Import Rules. This chapter of WLSB regulations addresses the guiding factors for importing livestock to the state. Efforts to protect Wyoming’s livestock industry from tuberculosis are one aspect of these broader regulations. Once comments are gathered at the hearing the WLSB will begin the formal process of amending and updating the regulations.
    Schwartz told WLSB members Tuesday night that Representative Sue Wallis of Recluse, who sponsored legislation that would have ended Wyoming’s involvement in NAIS, has agreed to attend both hearings.
    Watch future editions of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup for specific times and locations. Those wishing to review the state’s Chapter 8 import rules prior to May 14 can find them online at http://wlsb.state.wy.us. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    To Wyoming’s agricultural community, springtime is a harbinger of renewed life and hope. We know that clear thinking, hard work and tenacity can bring prosperity to our families and respect from the nation’s consumers. At the same time, readers of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup are aware that livestock producers are at a major crossroads regarding our ability to detect, trace and control disease in Wyoming’s livestock.
    To address this enormous challenge, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) is actively engaged with livestock owners, elected officials and the citizens of the state. As a member of the WLSB, a cattle and sheep producer and veterinarian, I am submitting this article to help lay the groundwork for an informed and thoughtful discussion about an integrated approach to protecting animal health.
    It’s important to mention that the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture Interim Committee will review and consider animal welfare statutes and consider disease outbreak response and notification systems prior to the 2009 session. We greatly appreciate their interest.
Wyoming Livestock Board
    The principal responsibility of the WLSB is to “protect the livestock interests of the state from theft and disease” (W.S. 11-118-102). This broad mandate is further defined by numerous specific and implied duties. Structurally, the WLSB is comprised of seven livestock-owning members, with each member representing a different district of the state. Board members are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate for six-year terms. The Director/Chief Executive Officer and State Veterinarian work on behalf of the WLSB to carry out statutory duties and to supervise staff.
    In order to protect the health of livestock and thereby maintain access to interstate and international markets, the WLSB must have the ability to respond effectively to an animal-disease outbreak. In addition, some animal diseases have human health implications, another dimension of significant importance.
    But first, I would like to briefly mention two issues; one to address a potential distraction and the second to provide some clarity.
Important Points
    First, there has been extensive media coverage of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and the acrimony surrounding it. Due to this controversy, the WLSB believes we should focus our energy and resources on developing an integrated Wyoming Livestock Health Program. To this end, the WLSB will stay apprised of the NAIS developments and advocate for Wyoming’s interests as necessary.
    Second, each state establishes its own laws, rules and regulations for the export and import of domestic animals, including health and identification requirements. The federal government plays a complimentary role via its role in the regulation of interstate commerce and the control of specific diseases through various programs.
    Now, to the heart of this article.
Our Existing Programs
    Wyoming has three programs upon which an integrated livestock health program can be based: the Brand Recording and Inspection Program; the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection Program; and the Reportable Disease List.
    A.    Brand Recording and Inspection Program
    Traditionally, the primary role of the WLSB’s brand program has been to prevent theft by ensuring the shipper or seller has legal ownership of all livestock to be shipped or sold. With few exceptions, all Wyoming livestock must be brand-inspected prior to crossing any county or state line and at all ownership changes. At present, the computerization of the brand program is underway.
    B.    Certificate of Veterinary Inspection Program
    The export of Wyoming livestock to any out-of-state destination requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) issued by an Accredited Veterinarian. Likewise, all out-of-state livestock destined for import into Wyoming require a CVI.
    When a CVI is issued, the Accredited Veterinarian is certifying that all shipped livestock meet the import requirements of the destination state, including any testing and identification requirements (which vary from state to state). Additionally, the livestock owner or agent must verify the animals are “certified and listed on the certificate.” Many times, the destination state also requires a pre-entry permit, for animal health reasons.
    C.    Reportable Disease List
    Currently, the WLSB is revising the Reportable Disease List (RDL) that will contain descriptions, standards and protocols for each listed disease. The RDL includes a variety of diseases, ranging from zoonotic (contagious for humans) to endemic (present in nature) and will be designed to protect the health of animals and humans in Wyoming.
 Developing the Wyoming Livestock Health Program
    Livestock producers and Wyoming citizens generally agree that Wyoming should develop an integrated livestock health program. To reach this objective, the WLSB is considering the augmentation of the Brand and CVI Programs to improve access, reliability and accuracy. By coupling these two programs with the Reportable Disease List, Wyoming will lay the foundation for a world-class livestock health program.
    Certainly, the cooperation of individual producers and the industry itself will be critical to our success in implementing a fair and effective Wyoming Livestock Health Program. But for now, we need to keep our eye on the ball and develop a good program that reflects your input and suggestions.
    Any serious discussion about the health of Wyoming’s livestock also raises other issues, such as the critical role and current shortage of veterinarians, not only in Wyoming, but across the nation. Another concern is the considerable number of endemic diseases in Wyoming and the risk they pose to livestock-export markets during an era of increased scrutiny. These issues are further complicated by major limitations on Wyoming’s ability to diagnose and pursue research on important diseases, due to federal regulations and outdated facilities.
    There are two more thoughts I must share with you.
Final Matters
    First, the WLSB is firmly committed to its statutory principles of confidentiality and authenticity. Within the context of a livestock health program, confidentiality means that information can be obtained only by those authorized to access it and can be utilized only for its intended purpose. Authenticity, on the other hand, means that information really comes from the source it claims to come from and is verifiably accurate. With unwavering dedication, the WLSB will make every effort to implement these important principles.
    Second, I would like to highlight the remarks of Dr. Van Wie at a Feb. 2008 legislative reception. In the face of disease such as Foot and Mouth Disease, Dr. Van Wie challenged Wyoming’s livestock producers not to “die” but to “survive.” Those in attendance will remember that Dr. Van Wie presented the sights and sounds of some very painful realities; a motivational appeal to action. That evening, the primary issue for some in attendance was NAIS, a “die” issue. The WLSB believes that we need to transform this kind of energy into a discussion about our desire to “survive” and even thrive.
    Today, Wyoming is unprepared to handle the challenge posed by a significant disease threat. We can remedy this predicament with reliable information, clear communications and a transparent decision-making process. If we develop a Wyoming Livestock Health Program, changes to our current practices are foreseeable. Yet the WLSB is optimistic that if we can focus on goals and solutions, we will ultimately develop the nation’s finest livestock health program. Our success will ensure the wellbeing of our individual animals, the state’s livestock industry, and Wyoming’s citizens.
    We, the Board and staff of the WLSB, welcome your participation. To that end, the WLSB is hosting listening sessions on May 14 in Riverton and Aug. 13 in Douglas during State Fair. Detailed information will be forthcoming. Written comments are welcome anytime and should be directed to Jim Schwartz, WLSB, 2020 Carey Avenue 4th Floor, Cheyenne, WY 82002. For more information about the WLSB, please visit http://wlsb.state.wy.us/ or call 307-777-7515.
    Dr. Eric Barlow of Gillette is a veterinarian, rancher and member of the Wyoming Livestock Board. He can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..   

Have we benefited by participating?

    With some calling on Wyoming to abandon its involvement in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS), it seems logical to ask a couple of questions…Just what would we be giving up? Following annual grant funds beginning in 2004, what have we gained through our NAIS involvement to date?
    Wyoming Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa says the original grant received in 2004 was $361,000. Romsa has overseen Wyoming’s NAIS involvement for the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) since the state first began partnering with the USDA.
    NAIS is a program, like many others at the federal level, showing a decreasing financial trend. The state was awarded $235,000 in 2005, $141,000 as a “bridge grant” that switched the program from fiscal years to calendar years in 2006, $248,000 in 2007 and $173,600 for this calendar year.
    First-year grant funds, says Romsa, were applied to pilot projects and purchase of a database system that remains in use today. Pilot project results weren’t optimum and warranted further research to see what would best suit Wyoming. “We were asking, ‘Is there technology where we can do our brand inspections and collect our animal I.D. information at the same time?’” Read range wasn’t adequate, but Romsa says emerging technology might be worth a second look if NAIS funds could be used in such a manner.
    Grants since 2004 haven’t been available for pilot projects. Instead, he says, USDA has directed its money at premises registration. Wyoming’s 2008 funds are largely being used for a premises registration coordinator and staff positions. Romsa’s salary and travel expenses, given his position as the state’s NAIS administrator, have been covered in part by the grant in recent years.
    “We can do some animal tracking infrastructure, but it’s mostly geared toward the premises database and premises registration.” That’s left technology developed by the agency – a voice entry system for brand inspectors and an on-line database – largely unimplemented regardless of its potential and long-term value. It’s also left the agency short the resources it needs to better build the state’s technological tools.
    State representatives to national NAIS discussions, like Romsa, early on stressed to USDA that much of the information involved in premises registration was already available through other USDA agencies. Romsa says he thinks the money would have been better spent on improving traceback infrastructure. In brand states, premises registration, which has quickly become NAIS’s political hot potato, is minimally useful, he says. WLSB officials have folded together animal health records and brand registrations in a system proving far more comprehensive and useful than the premises database.
    In Wyoming, Romsa says premises numbers haven’t been used in a single traceback. With only around 2,000 of the state’s premises registered, the program is largely invaluable. There’s only a one in four chance the premises in question is among those on the list. Romsa says brand inspectors and their knowledge of the livestock business in their areas continues to prove more efficient and valuable. “I think we’ve got the people who are really interested,” he says of current premises registrations. “There are some people who are a ‘wait and see’ and some people, 15 percent or more, actively fighting it. There might even be more than that.”
    While frustrated with the program’s focus, Romsa isn’t yet ready to abandon the larger goal of rapid traceback. He’s also seeing USDA move toward a greater appreciation for brands and Western issues like the need for lot identification.
    “One of the things that scare me is that I keep hearing from people that we don’t need NAIS because we have a brand program. But, they never come to us as a brand program and say, ‘What can you do and what can’t you do?’” says Romsa. “A brand program is a huge advantage, but because the brand program is geared toward one thing, verifying ownership, it doesn’t do a good job of individual animal identification.” He offers one example in which cattle from a single traceback were discovered in 20 separate states.
    “If we’re going to do it on a paper-based system that takes weeks going through boxes of books, we’re not going to trace this stuff back rapidly at all,” says Romsa, “If we could, I’d say that we can handle it, but I don’t want to sell our producers on thinking their safe or protected, when they’re not.”
    “The average traceback for tuberculosis is 188 days, that’s what USDA says it takes,” says Romsa. “On some diseases, if we take 188 days people are going to be broke,” he says. When asked to list the diseases of greatest concern when looking at NAIS, he says Foot and Mouth Disease is the obvious first choice. “You could spread it for days and never even know you’ve spread it,” he explains. “It takes about five days for clinical signs to show up. Several states could have it before anyone even knew there was a problem.” Vesicular stomatitis because of symptoms similar to FMD, brucellosis, tuberculosis and avian influenza also make the list.
    “I’m still a true believer in the need to have a rapid animal traceback,” says Romsa. “As we go out to the state and legislators our question is what do you want and we’ll do it. But, if we do it mostly through the state it’s going to take resources we haven’t had before. Whether you agree with NAIS or not, we’ve got to have something. The risks are real, the threats are real and they’re not going to go away.”
    Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – Wyoming can look locally for solutions to build an animal identification system, according to Assistant Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.
    Solutions called for by Logan involve little technology, moderate cost and a program similar to what’s now being done for brucellosis. Pointing out that the state was a leader in creating an individual identification program for sheep in the name of scrapie eradication, Logan says he believes the state can do the same for cattle and other livestock. While just beginning, Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) leaders hope to move the discussion forward over the summer with a more detailed discussion at the listening session planned for Douglas on August 13.
    Lost Cabin rancher Rob Hendry, who markets his calves with electronic individual identification tags in place, says he wouldn’t be opposed to the program. He would, however, like to be able to continue using the higher-tech approach. Logan says such an effort by willing producers could enter the state into a workable system while testing a higher tech option for future years.
    “Let’s try a program,” agreed Laramie County rancher Curt Epler noting that modifications could be made as needed.
    By adding numbers to something similar to existing blue Wyoming identification tags the state has used in its brucellosis identification program for the past eight years, Logan says animals could be traced individually. To be effective Logan says all livestock would need to be part of the program with enforcement occurring during brand inspection and at change of ownership.
    Tags of this style are less than a nickel each. Logan says they’d carry a number indicating the animal’s birth year and origin. Information surrounding the animal would be held at the WLSB and not accessible to other agencies unless there was an animal disease traceback underway.
    “We haven’t put the meat on it yet,” says WLSB Agency Director Jim Schwartz. “It’s just a concept at this point.” Once implemented he’s hopeful the program can be used for both marketing and animal traceback. “Eighty percent of the time the brand program works, but the other 20 percent is pretty high and we need to make sure we can trace those animals,” says Schwartz.
    Logan says pasture cattle coming into the state would have to receive Wyoming tags or carry something similar from their origin state. “I do think other states will look at it,” he says of the possibility of the system being implemented region-wide.
    The system, if adopted, would require manual data input and additional staffing at the agency’s Cheyenne office. Schwartz doesn’t envision the tag numbers being recorded each time the cattle are looked at requiring that they be run through the chute at inspection time, but that they serve as information surrounding origin.
    “There’s also questions about steers since they’re almost always a terminal animal,” says Schwartz. “We’re going to have to work with the industry and the producers and find what works for them.”
    Logan envisions a 2009 budget request to the Wyoming Legislature to cover both the cost of tags and implementation. Livestock owners would be responsible for placing the tags in their animals. In the case of cattle, Logan says he sees much of that happening at branding. As for sheep, the program would be on the existing scrapie tag program and be expanded to include lambs.
    Schwartz says any budget request is likely to be part of a larger proposal as the agency looks to beef up its abilities to address animal health issues.
    “It’s not something we can jump right into,” says Logan. “We’ve got to get the information laid out there and find out what it can and can’t do.” One challenge could be time, not only at the information databases in Cheyenne but in the field recording individual numbers.
    While he hasn’t received specific feedback from the USDA, Logan says they have asked if the WLSB is opposed to that agency’s National Animal Identification System. “We are not opposed to having a national system, in fact we agree that there needs to be a national ID system,” says Logan. but, it needs to be acceptable to producers, simple, convenient, and not cost prohibitive, in addition to being efficient. We’ve heard from a couple of APHIS folks that they’d be willing to look at anything Wyoming develops.” APHIS is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, an agency within the USDA that oversees the struggling NAIS.
    This article was written using information presented at the summer 2008 WSGA convention as part of an industry panel, and subsequent interviews. Dr. Jim Logan can be reached at 307-857-6131 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Loveland, Colo. – Despite attentive security and prior warning to arrive early to claim a seat, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) public comment hearing hosted by USDA June 1 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds was a low-key affair.
    Upon turning into the event grounds one was met by a collection of livestock trailers and ranch pickups brought in by the Independent Cattlemen of Colorado and posted with banners reading “No NAIS” and “Don’t Tread On Me.”
    Attended by approximately 100 people, members of state agencies, ag organizations and private landowners, the public comment period spanned just over three hours following short presentations from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack via video and area representatives from USDA.
    A frequent statement by the public was that repetition is key, and many of the comments reiterated that USDA should scrap their current program and path and start over.
    “Repetition is the mother of retention,” said Laramie rancher and R-CALF Region 2 Director Taylor Haynes.
    “The cost associated with NAIS for small producers will be extravagant,” said Alliance, Neb. cow/calf producer Bruce Messerschmidt, adding, “The track record of animal identification systems around the world is not strong.”
    Lingle farmer and feeder Mark Bebo called the NAIS program a joke. “The projected cost is $200 to $300 million, which isn’t even close to the actual cost,” he said. “I believe the program itself is not workable.”
    Bebo also questioned USDA’s failure to, or lack of desire to, “intercept diseased cattle from Canada, Mexico and, soon, South America.”
    Colorado veterinarian Scott Krane, also a rancher, said he supports a market-driven animal identification system, which was also a common theme among the comments.
    Dave Carter of the National Bison Association also shared concerns regarding producer compensation. “The cost borne by producers for disease prevention is a national concern,” he said. “Consumers have to share the burden, either through USDA funding or a market-driven system. The problem is that in the marketplace so many additional procedure costs are driven back to the producers, without compensation.”
    Beef and lamb producer Mondo Valdez from the San Louis Valley of Colorado agreed with a market-driven approach. “Making NAIS mandatory offers no competitive advantage or differentiation in the marketplace. Producers who participate should be rewarded.”
    Valdez also wondered how premises ID would affect property values, and whether property could be seized if an infected animal was found. “I don’t think we need another layer of bureaucracy,” he said, suggesting FSA have more of a place at the table, considering that agency already has relationships with landowners and producers.  
    From the bison perspective, Carter said, “We’re very concerned anytime procedures for handling animals are specified, because the folks raising bison end up with procedures designed for cattle when there are different husbandry and handling procedures for bison. We should support diversification, rather than continued consolidation and concentration.”
    Also emphasized by several comments was that NAIS is not a food safety issue, but a disease prevention issue. However, producers like Lingle’s Bebo said he thinks the ID program will put liability on cattle producers for problems developed at the slaughterhouse. “We sell cattle, not beef steak,” he said. “Packinghouses can take care of this problem easily by paying for identification.”
    Addressing the brand inspection issue, Wyoming Brand Commissioner Lee Romsa said, “When we talk about traceability, I’m the guy that does that. Right now we use brand inspection records and health records as our primary traceback.
    “Brand inspection is a valuable tool we have in the West, and sometimes it’s the only tool, but if I said brand inspection alone could work in every situation, I’d by lying to you.”
    He said the producer is the one who suffers the consequences when animal traceback isn’t fast enough. “The need for traceability is real. We’re not talking about future events, we do tracebacks on animal disease every year, and we have to have a system that works.”
    He says right now states use metal tags for diseases like brucellosis, tuberculosis and scrapie. “When we have those pieces in place we can do tracebacks regularly,” he noted.
    As a solution, he suggested states start with a tag and forego a national premises registration. “So much of our frustration is fighting over premises registration, and to me that’s the least important component. That’s like arguing over the color of the barn when the barn’s on fire. I can’t think of a single premises ID we’ve used in actual traceback situations. We can find the producers in our state.”
    “We need to strengthen our current system – it’s one that works, but we need to fix the problems,” said Romsa, adding there are major problems in the back-tagging system, where needed information for tracebacks is sometimes thrown away before tests are back for slaughtered cattle.
    Wyoming State Veterinarian Walt Cook agreed, saying Wyoming has a system that works pretty well, referencing mandatory brucellosis and scrapie tags. “They work well when they work, but the problem is human error. Our biggest problem is at slaughter, where a lot of times the ID isn’t kept, and that makes it very difficult for us to do a traceback.”
    He said he thinks the biggest problem is the lack of consequences for slaughterhouses that fail to keep animal identification information. “I think they ought to pay a hefty fine and be shut down during the investigation to find out why the ID was not kept. I think they’d start doing a better job keeping ID for us.”
    “I believe we need a mandatory system, but I don’t believe we need NAIS. I think a state system can work well, and I think in Wyoming our system does work well when human errors are taken out of the picture,” concluded Cook.
    Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..