Nebraska TB cases force mandatory ID tagging
July 1, 2009
OMAHA (DTN) – Jo Stec’s cattle sport an unwanted accessory: an “840” national animal identification tag.
A few months ago, one of her bulls broke through a fence and mingled with her neighbor’s herd in Rock County, NE. Her neighbor’s herd tested positive for bovine tuberculosis, and because of the bull’s contact, her 164-head herd has been quarantined.
A coalition of federal and state veterinarians told her they needed to attach an official USDA identification tags to her cattle as part of the epidemiological investigation, even though she objected three times and requested a metal ear tag instead of the 840 radio frequency, or electronic, identification tag. (“840” is the official designation for the United States under the World Organization for Animal Health.)
“My cattle are identifiable,” she said. Her cattle have brucellosis “bangs” tags, an individual ear tag and brands. “And now we have an unwanted, an undesired, an unlawful-to-remove EID (electronic ID) 840 ear tag in every mature animal’s ear.”
Stec spoke about her personal record-keeping system at Tuesday’s National Animal Identification System listening session in Omaha, NE. In a pocketbook she always has with her, she records pasture movements. She works with her vets to track vaccinations. With a few clicks of her computer mouse, she can tell every animal’s parents and grandparents. She said she sees no need for NAIS.
The last NAIS listening session was one of the smallest, with 63 people attending. Kathleen Akin, Nebraska’s state veterinarian, moderated the event. She said the electronic tags enable them to handle animals in a faster manner, saving precious time in the investigation into the source and the spread of TB.
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“We’re trying to deal with it,” she said of Nebraska’s TB outbreak. “And it’s like a 90-day countdown until our status could be affected from free to where the movement of our animals outside of the state could be subject to additional requirements,” Akin said.
So far, Nebraska has quarantined 43 herds, and 1,700 TB tests have come back negative. Another 3,300 test results are pending, according to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
Neil Hammerschmidt, the USDA’s NAIS coordinator, said using the NAIS ID tags saves producers time and taxpayers money because fewer people can test and tag the animals in less time.
Stec can’t legally remove the tags from her cattle’s ears, but she doesn’t have to tag any new cattle she receives. It’s important to keep the tags on so that investigators know that her cattle have been tested, and if another outbreak happens, they have a test history, Akin said.
Many of the ranchers at Tuesday’s session said the U.S. needs to strengthen its disease surveillance of foreign cattle sent to the country for slaughter. The overhead costs for small farms and information privacy concerns were the other major complaints.
Three farm-group representatives spoke in favor of a mandatory identification system, although each had concerns about the current NAIS program. All others in attendance, mostly small and independent producers, opposed a mandatory program.
The fate of the NAIS program is unclear at this point. The House Appropriations Committee has voted to strip nearly $14 million in annual funding for the program, largely because lawmakers think USDA has done a poor job of implementing the program.