U.S. beef group pushes for national cattle tracing system

As a livestock auction market owner from Tennessee, Jennifer Houston understands the value of traceability.

In her role as president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, she understands the apprehension among some members to adopt a nation-wide cattle traceability system.

“We have a portion of animal disease traceability already,” she said in an interview during the International Livestock Identification Association conference held near Calgary at Spruce Meadows July 15-17.

NCBA policy supports traceability but organization officials understand the mixed opinions among members. Each state has taken its own approach so more compatibility is needed to read systems and store data, said Houston.

When it comes to data management, she sees considerable benefit.

“It is a great management tool for people who want to use it but I think some of our farmers and ranchers are just a little scared of it,” she said.

The National Animal Identification System tried to introduce a program 10 years ago and it did not proceed.

However, more people are willing to have the discussion compared to five years ago.

Last year, a national study reported a wide range of opinion about the issue with one group wholly in favour and another completely opposed to identification. The middle ground realized the benefits but were concerned about costs, liability and data confidentiality. They also question how premise identification might work.

Producers ask what they are going to get out of it and who will pay for tags or readers.

She considers traceability an insurance program because many countries like Canada and the United Kingdom faced an animal disease catastrophe before they adopted full traceability. The United States is attempting to move forward before it faces an incident.

However, the concept remains a tough sell, particularly among part-time farmers who may not be aware of traceability or appreciate the consequences of a serious animal disease, she said.

At the East Tennessee Livestock Centre, she has first-hand experience with the diverse methods of animal identification. The market sells large volumes of dairy steers and under federal law these must be identified. Mature animals crossing state lines must be tagged and traced.

She sees calves arriving with no identification, low frequency tags, metal clips in their ears and some have high frequency tags. Some are wearing two or more tags.

“That doesn’t work at all,” she said.

The auction staff use dual readers but Houston would prefer to see a compatible system introduced to read tags on farm, assembly yards, auctions and packing plants.

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