In lieu of a national program for animal disease traceability that is yet to emerge, individual states are embracing the necessity and opportunity to institute their own programs.
For instance, beginning Jan. 1, every sexually intact adult beef animal in Texas must carry an approved form of permanent ID in order to change hands. This new regulation was approved by the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) after 18 months of dialogue with industry stakeholders. Texas was a state with 4.65 million beef cows on Jan. 1, 2012, and that was after the 2011 drought cleaved 660,000 head from its herd. That’s still more than twice as many beef cows as in any other state.
“We expect to distribute more than 1 million tags next year,” says Dee Ellis, DVM, TAHC commissioner. These are the metal ‘brite’ tags many are familiar with as the verification tags for brucellosis testing. TAHC, via USDA, is making the tags available to producers free of charge. Other forms of permanent ID can be used at the producer’s cost.
Ellis explains suspension of the state’s brucellosis testing program in August 2011 was the impetus behind the Texas Animal Disease Traceability (TADT) program. As in other states, Texas had utilized the requisite ID tags for disease eradication programs such as brucellosis testing as a provisional ID system that could be used to trace beef cows for other disease concerns. Ellis explains losing that system threatened TAHC ability to effectively trace cattle as part of any ongoing disease investigation.
Those charged with administering the programs and enforcing the regulations aimed at protecting state beef cattle populations routinely investigate animals infected with, or exposed to, various diseases. In Texas, for instance, since the beginning of the year, TAHC has investigated 30 brucellosis reactors, more than 300 bulls affected by bovine trichomoniasis, and 22 bovine tuberculosis cases.
Knowing the identity of cattle in these cases is critical to the successful conclusion of these investigations.
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“Producer response has been positive,” Ellis says. “Everyone understands the importance of disease traceability. The cattle industry here has never been opposed to animal ID. It’s a matter of what the program should be and how it affects producers.”
Rather than getting a head start on the national program, Ellis emphasizes, “Our program was developed to enhance disease traceability in Texas today.”
No one knows exactly what the final rule for the national program will look like. The proposed rule was published Aug. 11, 2011, and public comments were accepted through that December. The timeline published with the proposed rule suggested the final rule would be issued in August 2012.
According to a summary of the proposed rule, “Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate,” in the Federal Register (paraphrasing the content): “We are proposing to establish minimum national official identification and documentation requirements for the traceability of livestock moving interstate. Unless specifically exempted, livestock belonging to species covered by this rulemaking that are moved interstate would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation. The purpose of this rulemaking is to improve our ability to trace livestock in the event that disease is found.”
If the final rule mirrors what was proposed, it will begin with adult beef cattle and ultimately, over the course of years, include feeder cattle, as well as anything moving in interstate commerce.
For clarification, the Texas program only involves sexually intact adult beef cattle.
When the national program does emerge, there will likely be gnashing of teeth by some over finer points. No doubt, the usual suspects will issue a full-on Chicken Little battle cry substantiating their argument with fictional conspiracy theories as they have so clumsily in the past.
Hopefully, though, most will look for how to fix what needs fixing, but embrace the necessity and opportunity as Texas producers have.