USDA wants better tracking for livestock


By Greg Cima, JAVMA News

Nov. 28, 2018


Livestock animals that cross state lines should have electronic identification, according to federal agriculture leaders.


States, industry, and the Department of Agriculture also should share data that can be used to identify and isolate animals sickened and exposed to dangerous pathogens, according to goals described this fall. Greg Ibach, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in an announcement that meeting those goals would help keep animals healthy and valuable.


"We have a responsibility to these producers and American agriculture as a whole to make animal disease traceability what it should bea modern system that tracks animals from birth to slaughter using affordable technology that allows USDA to quickly trace sick and exposed animals to stop disease spread," he said.


The USDA officials who plan to implement that system have yet to describe in detail how animal identification and tracking systems will change and how soon that will happen. Agency spokeswoman Joelle Hayden said in early November that the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was developing plans, but none were ready for sharing.


Dr. K. Fred Gingrich II, executive vice president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, said association leaders have talked for years with cattle industry partners about livestock tracking systems, although he has not talked with USDA officials about the latest proposal.


"I can tell you that we believe having a robust traceability system in place is necessary to protect the health of the nation's cattle herd," he said.


This is especially true during an outbreak of a foreign disease. He said the U.S. and India are the only major beef exporters who lack robust cattle tracking systems.


About 700,000 farms and other operations have cattle raised for beef, Dr. Gingrich said. Farmers and ranchers send cattle from across the country to the central U.S. for finishing in feed yards, and the commingling and transportation involved present risks if one of them develops a contagious disease.


But Dr. Gingrich said any animal tracking system raises concerns about cost and privacy, especially if people can access program data through Freedom of Information Act requests.


With some exceptions, companies shipping livestock across state lines or U.S. borders already need individual or group identification for the animals, depending on the species. The identification can be...