The nation’s current livestock traceability system is busted to the point that George Teagarden says, “A highly contagious animal disease will devastate this country.”

That’s not alarmist rhetoric. Teagarden is one of the most practical, down-to-earth cattle producers you’d ever hope to meet. He also happens to be the state veterinarian in Kansas, a state that receives cattle from all 48 of the Continental U.S. states at least once every month. He was addressing participants at the recent ID Info Expo hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA).

Teagarden offered several examples of how the current traceability system – reliant upon successful state and federal disease eradication programs like brucellosis and tuberculosis – has made tracing cattle more costly in both time and money. Typically, animal health officials can find the animals in question, but it can be months after the fact.

“We need a mandatory ID and traceability program that is consistent across state lines… What voluntary system do any of you know that ever worked?” he asked.

Teagarden was at the meeting representing the National Assembly of State Animal Health Officials. That group’s support of mandatory national ID and traceability is nothing new, for the purposes of protecting the livestock herds in individual states and in the nation collectively.

Likewise, William Hartmann, state veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Board of Health, told folks, “For us (in Minnesota), it’s not a matter of mandatory or voluntary, it’s a necessity… the successful conclusion of a disease investigation depends on traceability.”

Currently, USDA officials peg participation in the voluntary National Animal Identification System (NAIS) at 36%. To be effective, various industry experts say participation needs to be around 90%.

Stymied by both private industry and federal officials in implementing NAIS – borne out of the U.S. Animal Identification Program, which was achieved with consensus across much of the livestock industry several years ago – supporters of a national program are trying to figure out how budge national animal ID forward. No answer along these lines emerged at the meeting, though a new sense of urgency surrounded both the public sessions and hallway chats.

In a roundabout way, livestock industries could have mandatory systems foisted upon them if they don’t take the lead themselves.

David Acheson, MD, of Leavitt Partners (formerly with the Food and Drug Administration) pointed out that House Bill 2749 has already passed in the House of Representatives. In part, that legislation would mandate the government issue trace-back regulations that, “enables the Secretary to identify the history of the food in as short a time as practicable, but no longer than two business days.” As it stands, that legislation would encompass both produce and meat.

You can find all of the proceedings from the ID Info Expo here.