“It's not ‘if.’ It's ‘when’ we find BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy] in the U.S.” How many times did we hear that phrase? We've now reached that “when,” as well as an era of responsibility that's been edging its way into our decision processes over the decades. Instead of being prepared because of a proactive past, we're now forced to address these responsibilities reactively.

Not only is society at risk for our actions, our reputations are at risk and those of the entities that extend from us.

There is great tradition in this country associated with the cattle industry, but that industry is not individual. It's a mistake to try and segment our industry, whether it's a beef-dairy division or cow-calf/stocker-feeder division. All those animals are potential beef and the reality is that it's a bovine industry, and the accountability is shared.

We need to be more prepared and our decisions more farsighted. Most importantly, a permanent cattle identification (ID) system is needed — a system consistent for all cattle. Electronic ID in an ear tag format and applied at birth is the most likely candidate for the launch of permanent ID.

I suggest that, in addition to whatever method of exterior ID is chosen, an ear notch be taken from each animal. From this ear notch, we can attain DNA identification that can be correlated to the exterior ID method and source of the animal, and placed into a national database. If an animal shows up without a tag, a hair sample is all it takes to match it to the database. Then, a tag can be reissued, eliminating a paper trail of ID codes that may follow one animal.

The ear notch has other benefits, too. If an animal doesn't have an ear notch, it can be assumed the animal hasn't been permanently ID'd and can thus be identified at that time if appropriate. We can also screen for various diseases like bovine viral diarrhea, as well as performing other epidemiological testing.

As food producers, we must decide where our responsibilities lie and become proactive. The industry sectors need to unite in support and employ a single ID program, realizing that the future of the industry is about shared accountability.
Kristi Mason, veterinary student
Julie Weikel, DVM, MS
Boardman, OR