Advisory committee tackles inter-state livestock traceability | TSLN.com

Advisory committee tackles inter-state livestock traceability

The Secretary of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health met by telephone conference March 4 and focused mainly on the proposed inter-state livestock traceability rule that will be released in April. USDA’s primary interest was a discussion of any “show stoppers” we may have heard from our various constituencies.

Three of us felt that the eventual inclusion of feeder cattle in the inter-state traceability requirements is a “show stopper” but in a committee vote, we lost. The rule shall include a provision that after seventy percent traceability compliance is reached in breeding cattle, feeder cattle will also be required to have tags that identifies their origin.

No one has yet explained to my satisfaction what disease issues will be contained by requiring “all” feeder cattle to be identified. I put “all” in quotes because there are disease issues that may need inter-state identification of “some” of the feeder cattle. For instance, the state of Colorado may soon require identification of sexually intact feeder cattle from the three states surrounding the Greater Yellowstone Area. The concern is that heifer calves may have been exposed to brucellosis from buffalo and elk.

I don’t know if this is over-reach on the part of Colorado or not, but it is certainly a further indicator that the continued refusal of the National Park Service to take responsibility for their brucellosis problem is not acceptable.

The second disease issue affecting feeder cattle is tuberculosis (TB) which is spreading across the country, particularly in dairy cattle and in cattle that have had contact with cattle imported from Mexico. Again, this is a disease that was almost eradicated in the U.S., only in this case to have been re-imported through inadequate controls at our borders.

It is my feeling that if the inter-state traceability identification is associated with the elimination of disease problems, then we, as livestock producers, should be willing to comply. But identification just because there might be the introduction of an unknown foreign disease is not, in my opinion, enough justification for the expense and bother for the inclusion of feeder cattle. In holding this opinion I am in a minority, as most of my fellow committee members seem to feel that identification is good just as a matter of course. They blame cow-calf producers for the demise of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which they feel was a better program. I think many of my fellow committee members continue to hope that the identification system will help prevent a catastrophe should there be a foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak.

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We had a briefing on the response to an FMD outbreak and there is nothing about the importation of FMD that will be good. It will mean the suspension of our beef and pork exports, perhaps indefinitely. If authorities decide to contain FMD by de-population of the infected herds, there are no good methods to euthanize the animals or dispose of their carcasses. Vaccination is possible but imperfect and no one knows what will happen once the disease is in the North American wildlife population.

Everyone hopes that an FMD outbreak, should it occur, will be small and in a geographic area with few livestock and little livestock movement. However, although none of the experts really want to come out and say it, in all probability, neither the Inter-state ID system nor the more rigorous NAIS would be of much use in an FMD epidemic. You will have to make your own assessment, and I urge you to have your livestock association host a discussion on FMD at your coming meetings. It will be much better to have that discussion in advance of an outbreak than in the middle of a crisis.

Another issue of potential disagreement is the question of the continued acceptance of brands as a means of official identification. Fourteen states use brands as a primary means of identification, some of the other states use brands voluntarily for ownership ID only, and the rest don’t record brands at all. There is, therefore, pressure to not accept brands as a means of official identification. We need to insure that a metal ear tag will be the minimal standard but that brands continue to be recognized as a means to augment identification.

I continue to be concerned that funds will not be sufficient to do everything that USDA would like to do regarding this proposed Inter-state ID system. This is why I think it is better to concentrate on controlling the disease issues we know we have rather than imposing identification requirements to all U.S. producers regardless of their disease status. One major area of expense is improving the data keeping systems in the states and tribal areas. The only system that seems to meet the field constraints is to continue issuing paper inter-state certificates of veterinary inspection (ICVI’s) and manually entering the information into an electronic data base. Hiring staff in the state veterinary departments to do the data entry costs money that the state governments may not have.

USDA will of course have cooperative agreements with the states and tribes to partially fund veterinary programs, but we are not sure that the federal funds will be sufficient to do the job properly. Since the key to this inter-state ID program is the improvement of the data management systems, if that does not happen because of budget constraints, I don’t see why producers should be required to ear tag all of their livestock, or why veterinarians or livestock market personnel should be required to read and record those ear tags. There appears to be a consensus on the committee that agrees. We have drafted a position statement that says that should the funding for the ID program not be forthcoming, then the overall program will be suspended.

The committee is asking USDA to extend the comment period to 120 days so there should be enough time for everyone to take a careful look at the proposed rule. Once the rule has been accepted and implemented – assuming it is accepted by producers – many of the details will be negotiated through bi-lateral protocols between the states. This means that producers will have to pay attention to what their state veterinary departments are up to.

The Secretary of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee on Animal Health met by telephone conference March 4 and focused mainly on the proposed inter-state livestock traceability rule that will be released in April. USDA’s primary interest was a discussion of any “show stoppers” we may have heard from our various constituencies.

Three of us felt that the eventual inclusion of feeder cattle in the inter-state traceability requirements is a “show stopper” but in a committee vote, we lost. The rule shall include a provision that after seventy percent traceability compliance is reached in breeding cattle, feeder cattle will also be required to have tags that identifies their origin.

No one has yet explained to my satisfaction what disease issues will be contained by requiring “all” feeder cattle to be identified. I put “all” in quotes because there are disease issues that may need inter-state identification of “some” of the feeder cattle. For instance, the state of Colorado may soon require identification of sexually intact feeder cattle from the three states surrounding the Greater Yellowstone Area. The concern is that heifer calves may have been exposed to brucellosis from buffalo and elk.

I don’t know if this is over-reach on the part of Colorado or not, but it is certainly a further indicator that the continued refusal of the National Park Service to take responsibility for their brucellosis problem is not acceptable.

The second disease issue affecting feeder cattle is tuberculosis (TB) which is spreading across the country, particularly in dairy cattle and in cattle that have had contact with cattle imported from Mexico. Again, this is a disease that was almost eradicated in the U.S., only in this case to have been re-imported through inadequate controls at our borders.

It is my feeling that if the inter-state traceability identification is associated with the elimination of disease problems, then we, as livestock producers, should be willing to comply. But identification just because there might be the introduction of an unknown foreign disease is not, in my opinion, enough justification for the expense and bother for the inclusion of feeder cattle. In holding this opinion I am in a minority, as most of my fellow committee members seem to feel that identification is good just as a matter of course. They blame cow-calf producers for the demise of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), which they feel was a better program. I think many of my fellow committee members continue to hope that the identification system will help prevent a catastrophe should there be a foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak.

We had a briefing on the response to an FMD outbreak and there is nothing about the importation of FMD that will be good. It will mean the suspension of our beef and pork exports, perhaps indefinitely. If authorities decide to contain FMD by de-population of the infected herds, there are no good methods to euthanize the animals or dispose of their carcasses. Vaccination is possible but imperfect and no one knows what will happen once the disease is in the North American wildlife population.

Everyone hopes that an FMD outbreak, should it occur, will be small and in a geographic area with few livestock and little livestock movement. However, although none of the experts really want to come out and say it, in all probability, neither the Inter-state ID system nor the more rigorous NAIS would be of much use in an FMD epidemic. You will have to make your own assessment, and I urge you to have your livestock association host a discussion on FMD at your coming meetings. It will be much better to have that discussion in advance of an outbreak than in the middle of a crisis.

Another issue of potential disagreement is the question of the continued acceptance of brands as a means of official identification. Fourteen states use brands as a primary means of identification, some of the other states use brands voluntarily for ownership ID only, and the rest don’t record brands at all. There is, therefore, pressure to not accept brands as a means of official identification. We need to insure that a metal ear tag will be the minimal standard but that brands continue to be recognized as a means to augment identification.

I continue to be concerned that funds will not be sufficient to do everything that USDA would like to do regarding this proposed Inter-state ID system. This is why I think it is better to concentrate on controlling the disease issues we know we have rather than imposing identification requirements to all U.S. producers regardless of their disease status. One major area of expense is improving the data keeping systems in the states and tribal areas. The only system that seems to meet the field constraints is to continue issuing paper inter-state certificates of veterinary inspection (ICVI’s) and manually entering the information into an electronic data base. Hiring staff in the state veterinary departments to do the data entry costs money that the state governments may not have.

USDA will of course have cooperative agreements with the states and tribes to partially fund veterinary programs, but we are not sure that the federal funds will be sufficient to do the job properly. Since the key to this inter-state ID program is the improvement of the data management systems, if that does not happen because of budget constraints, I don’t see why producers should be required to ear tag all of their livestock, or why veterinarians or livestock market personnel should be required to read and record those ear tags. There appears to be a consensus on the committee that agrees. We have drafted a position statement that says that should the funding for the ID program not be forthcoming, then the overall program will be suspended.

The committee is asking USDA to extend the comment period to 120 days so there should be enough time for everyone to take a careful look at the proposed rule. Once the rule has been accepted and implemented – assuming it is accepted by producers – many of the details will be negotiated through bi-lateral protocols between the states. This means that producers will have to pay attention to what their state veterinary departments are up to.

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