Looks like cowboys left their mark on U.S. animal identification policy.

Two years after rancher tempers burned red hot over the possible rejection of hot-iron brands for identifying cattle moving interstate, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled a new brand-friendly final rule for animal disease traceability.

"The final rule meets the diverse needs of the countryside, where states and tribes can develop systems for tracking animals that work best for them and their producers,” says Vilsack.

In short, after years of negotiating terms for tracing animals from the slaughterhouse to the farm gate, USDA has decided to let states and tribes select their own rules within a broad set of guidelines. Hot-iron brands, the preferred identification among Western ranchers with range animals, pass muster provided governments on the sending and receiving ends of transactions approve.

The rule represents a big shift for the USDA, which three years ago planned to use a barcode-like scanning system to track livestock and poultry from birth to butcher shop. The National Animal Identification System was presented as a way to track disease. Branding wouldn’t have been recognized as legitimate identification for animals moving across state lines or off tribal lands. Indoor agriculture businesses, like poultry and pig farms, didn’t object, but ranchers with range animals said the rules were unworkable for livestock put out to pasture.

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