ADT group recommends electronic identification of beef cattle breeding herd by 2023
Electronic tagging of livestock was the topic of discussion at the 2017 Strategy Forum on Livestock Traceability, which was co-hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the U.S. Animal Health Association in Denver on Sept. 26-27.
The ADT working group recommended that all beef cattle 18 months of age and older by 2023 be electronically identified.
“The group also recommended that identification requirements be triggered sooner than interstate movement for currently covered cattle,” said Chelsea Good, JD, LMA vice president of government and industry affairs. “Instead, beef cattle 18 months of age and older would be required to be identified at commingling, change of ownership, and interstate movement, whichever comes first.”
She added, “If adopted, this requirement would require ranchers and the auction markets they work with to apply an electronic identification ear tag for official identification of covered animals, instead of a metal brite tag or a non-electronic ear tag. It is likely that reading of these electronic tags could also be required when cattle move.”
There are many working parts to an effective electronic identification system, and the beef industry will have its fair set of challenges trying to find a system that pleases all parties. Major findings from the APHIS public meetings found general concerns surrounding the confidentiality and security of information, liability, costs, requirements of small producers, uniformity of enforcement, types of electronic identification equipment to use, logistics of managing movement documents and collection IDs at slaughter, and handling cattle imported to the U.S., just to name a few.
“It can be easy to get hung up on the aspirational nebulous discussions of a perfect identification system, but if we do that, we’ll never get far,” said Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association executive vice president. “We need to get into the weeds of this and determine what works to tag cattle that is effective at the speed of commerce. As an industry, we are in a position where we can control and drive the outcome, but it starts locally in your home state, so producers need to be applied and action-oriented in this process.”
Official recommendations likely will be published on the Federal Register in October, and the public is encouraged to comment.
“After this initial feedback opportunity, the change to electronic ID only would require a formal rule-making, which would also require publication in the federal register and a public comment period,” Good said. “There will also likely be some industry-led meetings on the identification topic in the future. Producers can get involved by participating in written comment period opportunities. They also can provide feedback to industry organizations with which they are active.”
One cattle producer, who has worked in the yards at Miles City Livestock for 20 years can see a red flag when it comes to the practicality of scanning eartags on every breeding animal that goes through the salebarn. “When you are talking about trying to be humane to the animals, I think this would put more stress on them. A lot of people have great ideas but when it comes to actually implementing them, are they thinking about the livestock and the people involved?” wonders Sam Kortum of Terry, Montana.
“To make a long story short animal identification sounds to me like it’s a money maker for someone. Someone is making money off it while a lot of people implementing it are being stressed monetarily.”
Kortum said a hot brand is a permanent, simple, inexpensive and user-friendly form of identification. “I might be a little old school but I believe the best identification is a brand. It’s there. It’s not going to leave, you can read it. It’s traceable from day one until forever.”
The opportunity to lose electronic tags is real, she said, adding that the tags are expensive. She’s used electronic age and source verification tags in the past on her ranch, but then stopped utilizing them because she didn’t believe the tags were adding value to the calves.
“I’m not saying it’s an absolutely bad thing. There is good with anything, but I think a lot of times government tends to overdo things. Keep it simple.”
Dustin Oedekoven, DVM, South Dakota state veterinarian hopes more people like Kortum will offer their thoughts to USDA.
“We certainly need more producer input on this topic to discuss working solutions,” added Oedekoven. “One producer in attendance at the forum made the comment that this system won’t go anywhere unless its a stakeholder-led initiative. Producers may not see a premium for animals if they carry an electronic ID, but having the information available when and if a disease outbreak were to occur is critical. However, this system must be balanced out with the cost and burden of implementing this technology. I encourage producers to watch the Federal Register and provide meaningful, focused comments that help create reasonable solutions for a working traceability system.”
Silvia Christen, South Dakota Stockgrower’s Association executive director, echoed the same sentiments, encouraging members to educate themselves on the topic and be in contact with their veterinarians to discuss the best possible system.
“We need to hear from producers about what they want and what they don’t want, so we can continue to advocate for them down the road,” Christen said. “This forum was incredibly informative but very agency heavy. There weren’t too many producers in the room, so that part of the conversation was missing.”
Throughout the forum, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service presented findings from nine public meetings held across the country this summer related to the current Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) framework, and based on stakeholder feedback, identified areas of the 2013 “Traceability of Livestock Moving Interstate” rule that could be enhance the tracing capabilities for emergency response, disease control and eradication programs.
Additionally, the ADT state and federal working group presented preliminary recommendations, which could potentially shape future guidelines for livestock traceability in the future.
“The highest priority of the forum was trying to build a system that is functional and workable for producers and auction barns,” Fankhauser said. “The primary focus was on disease traceback, but there is a clear recognition that traceability will be a component of some of these international markets.”
Instances of Tuberculosis and Brucellosis outbreaks are a good reminder to producers of the importance of quick and effective disease traceback.
“The Tuberculosis outbreak in South Dakota demonstrated that the efforts that have been made in this arena have been effective so far,” said Oedekoven. “We were able to more quickly respond to the most recent incident and get a handle on things compared to previous cases in years past. Of course, there are still some gaps to address. From my perspective as an animal health official in South Dakota, we know that the educational process needs to continue, and we must work closely with private veterinarians and auction markets. We know we don’t have 100 percent compliance, but as measured by recent real life events, for the most part, we have a pretty good working system.”
Based on the preliminary recommendations for updated rules offered by the ADT working group, the focus will continue on cattle currently covered under the rule — adult beef cattle and dairy of all ages — and would not expand to beef feeder cattle until the system and its kinks are ironed out.
“It was noteworthy that the forum recognized and acknowledged that we need to focus on compliance of current regulations,” Christen said. “One thing our organization is particularly worried about is the discussion of the full implementation of a mandatory electronic identification system for breeding age cattle under the ADT rule. While it’s just a discussion at this point, the implications would be huge with a great deal of challenging logistics to figure out. Getting all of our ranches and salebarns ready for that type of infrastructure would be costly with a huge learning curve, too.”
“As an industry, we would never ask the USDA to build a program that creates value for us; we would never do that,” Fankhauser said. “Do producers want a government disease program, or do they want to build a program in the private sector that works for disease control and adds value? The industry needs to step forward and build something that adds value to the producer, so it doesn’t have to be a mandated system. We want the private industry to be driving what the system does and where the data is warehoused, and many major industry groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Livestock Marketing Association, U.S. Animal Health Association, Livestock Producers Council, and various state organizations, have stepped forward and are willing to be part of the solution.”
With questions about who will house the data, which electronic identification system will be most effective, what needs to be changed on the existing rule, and where does the industry go from here, there seemed to be more questions remaining than answers following the forum; however, groups like the LMA are dedicated to moving forward and finding practical working solutions for auction barns and ranchers alike.
“The Livestock Traceability Forum and ongoing conversations are looking at the future of the ADT program,” said Good. “These will be decisions we’ll have to make as a cattle industry. Some key considerations will be: at what points should livestock be identified, who will pay for the identification, and where will the data be held.”
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