One year ago on the 23rd of this month, USDA announced confirmation of a single case of BSE in Washington state. Much has changed in the intervening 12 months.
The U.S. beef industry is slowly regaining its $3.8-billion export markets; about a third has been recovered at this time. The biggest prize, however, the Pacific Rim, has remained elusive. The U.S.-Japan agreement on export protocols reached in late October is a positive signal that U.S. beef potentially could be back in Japan by next spring.
The discovery of BSE in the U.S. also prompted a new urgency in building a national animal ID and traceback system to allow for quick response in the event of an animal health crisis. The template is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS), designed to allow any animal in the U.S. to be tracked within 48 hours to its farm of origin and all the stops along its production life.
The pace of progress in that ID effort has proved frustrating to many in the beef industry. But one must recognize that the beef industry is building a traceback system where essentially none has before existed.
Compliance, for instance, isn't nearly as challenging for some of the other covered species. Sheep and goats already have a de facto traceback program by virtue of the national scrapie eradication effort. Meanwhile, hogs and poultry tend to move as groups throughout their lives.
“This program won't happen overnight,” says Robert Fourdraine, chief operating officer of the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC).
At this point, 43 states and tribes are either developing, or have operational, systems for registering livestock premises. Registering premises, Fourdraine says, is “the cornerstone” of any ID system.
“We'll start with premises ID and move to animal tracking, but it will take multiple years to establish the infrastructure to support it,” he says.
Wisconsin, a national leader in the ID effort, for example, has identified 2,400 livestock premises on a voluntary basis as of mid November. But, that's just a fraction of the estimated 55,000-70,000 total premises in the state. A law passed by the 2004 state legislature, however, mandates that all livestock premises in the state be registered by November 2005.
“I suspect a lot of producers will wait until it becomes mandatory,” Fourdraine says. “We expect to make a lot of progress in registering premises next summer.”
Among Wisconsin producers, he says the biggest concern regarding national ID and traceback seem to be the cost — who will pay for it? The next concern is about the equipment that is available.
“When I talk to producers, it's more the practical aspects of ID they ask about, not the philosophy or the privacy issues,” he says.
Fourdraine offers this advice:
“In Wisconsin, I'm telling folks to register their premises. That's the first step. Following that, when individual tags with official Animal Identification Numbers become available, their herds will be ready for the next step,” he says.
Fourdraine also emphasizes that producers should not remove any official tags livestock are already wearing.
“One lesson learned from the Washington BSE case was that if the producer had removed the tag from the infected cow, we wouldn't have known its origin was Canada. It would have been a U.S. cow,” he says.
Kansas State University's Dale Blasi, a U.S. leader in beef cattle electronic ID, recommends producers stay abreast of the budding NAIS effort.
“Read the magazines and the Web sites,” he says. “The bottom line is that the industry is going to have more records, and producers need to get in the habit of keeping records. Whether we like it or not, that's how it's going.”
What is the National Animal Identification System (NAIS)?
NAIS is a national program intended to identify all agricultural animals and track them as they come into contact with, or are inter-mixed with, animals other than herdmates from their premises of origin. It's a national ID and tracking system that will be used in all states and operate under national standards.
When fully operational, the system will be capable of tracking a sick animal or group of animals back to the herd or premises that is the most likely source of infection. It will also be able to trace potentially exposed animals that were moved out of that herd or premises.
Why is NAIS needed?
It's needed to help protect U.S. animal agriculture from foreign or domestic disease threats. NAIS will allow for rapid tracing of animals in the event of an outbreak, helping to limit the scope and expense of the outbreak and minimizing the impact on domestic and foreign markets.
Will NAIS be voluntary?
At this point, USDA is promoting a voluntary program. But if the stated aim is traceback on any animal within 48 hours, it's likely a voluntary program that doesn't draw sufficient participation will become mandatory.
How much will the program cost?
That's difficult to estimate at this point because all the needed components haven't been fully defined. Early estimates had circled around $500 million for the first six years.
During fiscal year (FY) 2004, USDA allocated $18.8 million into the NAIS, which was awarded in grants to various pilot projects across the U.S. Find out more about the funded projects at www.aphis.usda.gov/lpa/issues/nais/nais.html. Meanwhile, the President's budget for FY 2005 requested $33 million.
Where do producers get premises ID numbers?
Each state and tribe's animal health authority (e.g., state veterinarian) is responsible for administering and maintaining a premises registration system. Once a system is operational in each area, the state or tribal animal health official will obtain unique national premises ID numbers through USDA's premises number allocator. For contact information in your area, see the listing on page 40 of this issue.
What information will the premises registration system record?
Included will be address, contact name, type of premises, and phone number to contact the person in charge of the premises.
What forms of ID will be used?
Different technologies will work better for some species than others. Rather than focus on a specific technology, USDA is focusing on the design of the ID data system. Each species will determine the technology most appropriate to meet the needs of their system. The committee representing cattle is recommending exclusive use of RFID technology (electronic tags).
Where do producers get official Animal Identification Numbers (AINs)?
Following premises registration, producers can contact an animal ID number manager in their area to obtain official AINs. The numbers will be issued to the premises and linked to the animals in a way appropriate for the species. USDA says AINs should be available for distribution by mid 2005.
If a producer is currently using an ID program through a private service or marketing alliance, will that ID be usable in the NAIS?
Yes, assuming the program is compliant with the official NAIS standards. USDA recently issued an interim rule that allows for grandfathering-in numbers (tags) already using certain versions of AIN — specifically those beginning with “USA” or a management code issued by the International Committee on Animal Recording.
Should producers or industry associations consider aligning themselves with a database management provider to ensure compliance with NAIS?
Producers are free to use any data management service they choose. There are, however, no plans to require producers to participate in any private data management system or align themselves with any specific data service provider.
Who will be responsible for applying ID to animals?
During the phase-in period, animals will need to be identified as they leave whatever premises they are on regardless of where they were born. After the first few years of the program, identifying animals will be the responsibility of the “premises of birth” animal owners.
Who will have access to information in the national animal ID databases?
As part of the NAIS, federal, state and tribal animal health and public health officials will have access to the information repositories when they need data to administer animal health programs at the state and national level.
What species are included?
Currently, working groups are developing plans for aquaculture, camelids (llamas and alpacas), cattle/bison, cervids (deer and elk), equine, goats, poultry, sheep and swine.
What are the liability issues of this program for animal owners?
USDA and the states will only collect and retain necessary ID data in the pre-harvest production chain and through final inspection at slaughter establishments. The NAIS, in serving as a repository for verifiable data, will increase the accuracy of animal health information and won't expose producers to unwarranted or additional liability.
What government entities will oversee this plan?
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will administer the program. Further, the plan calls for governance as a joint federal-state responsibility with industry input. To ensure uniformity of operations across the U.S., APHIS and individual state animal health entities will develop and administer key regulatory elements of the plan.
What will be the ID requirements for animals entering the U.S.?
Live animals imported into the U.S. will require ID levels equivalent to that required of U.S. producers for interstate movement. Imported animals will maintain their country of origin ID and be tracked like domestic livestock.
What's being done to ensure the privacy of producers' records? Will information collected for NAIS be exempted from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
The national information repositories will only include information for animal and disease tracking purposes. Proprietary production data will remain in private databases.
USDA is pursuing various options for protecting information in the NAIS from public disclosure. Regarding the FOIA, USDA has forwarded a bill to the House Ag Committee that would exempt NAIS information from the FOIA. It's now up to the Congress.
How are NAIS and country-of-origin labeling (COOL) related?
There is no connection, though some system of animal documentation is necessary to comply with a mandatory COOL law.
Animal ID is an animal disease control tool. Its aim is to allow the tracking of any animal within 48 hours in the event of an animal disease outbreak. Thus, as currently designed, individual animal ID ends at the processing level.
Meanwhile, COOL is a beef marketing tool. Its purpose is to identify to consumers at the retail meat case the country (or countries) where the animal was born, raised and fed. The idea behind COOL is that proponents feel American consumers will prefer U.S. beef product to foreign product.
Where can I learn more about the NAIS plan?
This list was compiled by BEEF editorial staff from government and outside expert sources.
More ID resources
AVID I.D. Systems
Bovigen Solutions, LLC
Cal Tag, Inc.
DHI Computing Service, Inc.
Hi-Plains Systems, Inc.
MMI Genomics, Inc.
National FAIR (Farm Animal Identification and Records)
Premier 1 Supplies, Ltd.
PYXIS Genomics, Inc.