U.S. struggles with traceability

DENVER, Colo. — Implementing livestock traceability in the United States has been like a long engagement in which the bride fears she may never make it to the altar.

“We have been working on this topic for 14 or maybe even 20 years and it seems the same 14 points that we have settled on in the last listening sessions have been the same 14 points that we have been talking about (now),” said Gregory Ibach, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs.

“We need to figure out a way forward and find a way to get past those same discussions we have been having,” he said at the annual National Institute of Animal Agriculture conference held in Denver from April 10-12.

The federal government is interested in animal traceability only to track disease. It is not interested in running a national traceability program with value-added components.

“If we do have a disease occur we need to identify that disease early and we need to take steps rapidly to respond and mitigate the impacts of that animal disease,” he said.

“The pork and poultry sectors have made great strides in animal disease traceability, we still have the greatest challenges in the beef industry in catching up,” he said.

Since 2013, the U.S. requires identification of cattle older than 18 months travelling between states. They must be accompanied by a veterinarian’s certificate or other movement document. There is no program for younger cattle at this time.

A pilot study in Kansas is starting to test industry collaboration, possible improvements and how information can be shared, at least on a state basis.

Chief veterinary officer Jack Shere reiterated the need for animal health professionals and the cattle industry to present a program that works for them.

The federal government writes minimum standards, and states can use them as guidance to formulate their programs, where requirements may be much higher, to protect their livestock within their own jurisdiction.

“We want to build a program that works for the animal health officials who have to regulate the program and we want a program that works for the industry and the speed of commerce,” said Shere.

“We also want to build something that is utilizable for all sectors,” he said.

The government wants a database of premise identification and electronic identification for all cattle.

If a high consequence disease is discovered, government officials want to be able to find potentially infected animals, stop movement, stop the disease, protect those not exposed and develop a vaccine.

The current program for mature animals has gaps.

“If the animal has a tag in its ear, we should be able to trace it in 24 hours. If it’s not tagged, I really can’t tell you much about it,” Shere said.

“Beef feeders need to be included in the future but the consensus is to address other gaps in the current framework, such as beef breeding cattle over 18 months old and all dairy cattle before we expand any official ID requirements including electronic ID and supporting infrastructure,” he said.

Shere would prefer an official identification that can include a piece of tissue for DNA matches to confirm they have found the right animal in a disease investigation.

“If I have an ID match and a DNA match, I am pretty sure I am in the right place. There are high consequences for producers and they want solid evidence,” he said.

Pilot studies are now collecting traceability data on cattle arriving in the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. The studies are trying to determine how U.S. systems can work with systems already in place in those countries. The U.S. wants to trace those imports because those animals are sorted and are shipped all over the country and information may eventually get lost.

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