Trade may force animal traceback system

U.S. access to the Chinese market will require an identification system that provides traceability to the farm of origin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Demands from trading partners may force the United States to adopt a full livestock traceability system.


“We tried to push the system based on animal disease. The economics of trade will move this system forward,” said Jack Shere, chief veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.


The Chinese plan to audit the American system, but there are glitches. 


“What they are asking for is a bookend system that will trace back to where the animals are born to where they are slaughtered,” Shere said during the National Institute of Animal Agriculture’s annual meeting in Kansas City. 


Branded beef programs can provide this information and could perhaps be used to test the Chinese requirements, said John Clifford, chief trade adviser for the USDA.


A 2013 federal traceability rule allows each state to manage their own programs, which includes monitoring animal movement. Information gaps remain, which is not acceptable to countries such as China. 


“We agreed with the industry to have a voluntary system, but it is impacting trade. It is one of the obstacles with China,” Clifford said. 


A unified identification system that provides quick traceability is needed for U.S. feeder cattle destined for the Chinese market. 


“The industry as whole, and the states, need to be working on this issue to try and have an unified approach,” he said.


“When that market opens, how many feeder cattle are going to be available to meet China’s requirements? There is probably not very many.”


The industry also needs to be able to prove the tag was applied at the birth farm when the animal is presented at slaughter. 


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Cattle younger than 18 months have been exempted from the rules, but China may change that. 


Other countries are also requesting specific standards. 


Dairy cattle have been exported to Russia, which wants proof they were of American origin, said Shere. 


“We can either go there or we can sit and complain that they are putting a burden on us,” Clifford said.


“If we want to be in these markets, we have got to develop a system.” 


This proviso is linked to BSE, said Clifford, because investigators need to find the herd cohorts if a cow is diagnosed with the disease. 


“If one of those calves happened to be a feeder that went to China, they want us to be able to identify that,” he said. 


It is an unlikely scenario, but the Chinese want all contingencies covered. 


Most of the other livestock species in the U.S. are achieving good traceability standards, said Clifford. The greatest downfall is timeliness when traceback is needed during a major disease outbreak. 


“It has been reduced from weeks and months to maybe a few weeks,” he said.


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“In the infectious disease process, that may not be fast enough.” 


Databases have improved since the rule was passed, and more states are moving from paper trails to electronic records to record interstate movement of animals, said Neil Hammerschmidt, the USDA’s program manager for animal disease traceability. 


Information retrieval times have been increased to 35 hours from more than 80 hours now that more data is stored electronically. 


The government is also trying to encourage producers to use radio frequency ear tags that carry a unique identification number. 


RFID may have to be adopted to trace animals and move at the speed of commerce. Future funding for the states will be focused to advance such a program, said Shere. 


State veterinarians attending the NIAA meeting said there are problems in smaller processing facilities where tags are not correlated to carcasses at the time of slaughter.


Positive cases of tuberculosis in cows have been detected and no herd of origin could be found. 


Clifford said USDA employees must get into plants and make sure the tags are correlated to any animals found with serious defects.


“We have to have an official ID system that we can totally depend on,” Clifford said. “We need to go into the plant and pull the tag and trace it back to the farm of origin.”


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