In 2002, the National Livestock Identification Scheme (NLIS) initiated a system of permanent identification (ID). The system is voluntary, except in Victoria, and uses devices such as ear tags and rumen boluses imbedded with an electronic microchip (with matched ear tags). The device is read electronically by readers at sale yards, abattoirs or on farm and the information sent to the national database via e-mail, fax or mail.

The database is able to store and provide information such as animal disease and residue status, market eligibility, lost, stolen and mortgaged cattle and commercial information.

A username and password are used to access the database. The Cattle Council of Australia has endorsed a 14-digit, whole-of-life breeder tag that will identify the state, region, herd, year of issue and individual animal.

The program is run by SAFEMEAT, an industry and government partnership, while the program is delivered by Meat and Livestock Australia.


Currently, the only system of compulsory animal ID used is branding. If animals are transported, a sanitary movement permit issued by the local veterinary office must accompany the animals. There is no legal obligation for the farmer to keep stock records on the farm.

A national task force on livestock ID has been established to determine the most appropriate system for Argentina. The Argentine beef industry relies on international markets and recognizes that lack of ID and traceability could present barriers to trade in the future.


For many reasons, including disease control, Brazil is phasing in a mandatory national cattle ID and traceability system.

Starting in June 2002, all beef for export to the European Union (EU) had to be enrolled in the program. The deadline for animals destined to other foreign markets was December 2003.

Producers located in foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-free areas are to be in the program by the end of 2005. By 2007, all cattle and buffalo in the country must be in the program.

Some Brazilian cattlemen accuse the government of using the ID system to plot with the large meat packers and exporters/importers, exploiting the cattle farmers by controlling meat prices.


Canada's program stipulates that a national ID ear tag be applied by the time an animal leaves the herd of origin. As a minimum requirement, the ear tag consists of a visible unique number, bar code and Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) logo. As a result of readability problems with the bar-code system, however, CCIA is now studying a move to radio-frequency ID.

The numbers are assigned by CCIA to tag manufacturers and tags are distributed through authorized service centers and other distributors. The service centers maintain records of which numbers went to which producers. Primary producers are not required to maintain records. At the packing plant, the unique number will be maintained up to and including the point of carcass inspection.

In the event of a health or safety issue involving that animal, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will be given access by the CCIA to the record of the herd of origin. Starting from both the herd of origin and the last location of the animal, CFIA will trace from both points to determine the source of the problem.

European Union (EU)

After January 1, 2000, all livestock were to be tagged with one ID tag in each ear by 20 days after birth. The ID code follows the animal through a mandatory meat labeling system.

A “passport” for each head of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) is issued within 14 days of notification of its birth. The passport contains ID code, birth date, sex, breed or coat color, ID code of the dam and sire, ID code of the farm of birth and all farms where the animal has been kept. Animals may be moved only if accompanied by their passports.


Japan, hit by eight cases of BSE in the past two years, passed legislation in June to implement a compulsory system of full traceability of cattle from the farm through retail sale. All cattle must be individually eartagged and information, including the ID number, breed, sex and production history, must be entered into a national database. In addition, new regulations are proposed to require producers to maintain records on feed use and feed suppliers.

The system is largely designed to assuage food safety fears among Japanese consumers. In fact, one company marketing Wagyu beef offers a computerized system that allows consumers at point of purchase (or on their home computer) to key in a 10-digit number that is carried on the beef product label. Thus, consumers can access such information as the animal's birth date, breed, origin, photo of the producer, and the results of BSE tests performed on that animal. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries tests every carcass for BSE.

The Japanese government also mandates country-of-origin labeling on all imported products at retail, but doesn't require traceability at this time.


The Confederación Nacional Ganadera (CNG), the national cattlemen's association of Mexico, is exploring technology with the goal of both individually identifying cattle and labeling the beef products derived from them. The CNG proposes the implementation of a system of voluntary electronic ID.

The operation of this system would be under the supervision of a non-profit- making body established by the cattle producers' organization.

New Zealand

As of July 1, 1999 every person who owns or is in charge of cattle or deer must participate in the compulsory ID of cattle and deer.

A herd number is required to be printed on official tags issued to that person. The ID program will allow for persons to use other herd/farm/business identifiers on official tags. A national herd register will link approved ID numbers to those persons in charge of a herd.

The herd register will also record the issue of devices that either carry the unique herd number or, as in the case of radio frequency devices, have a unique number linked to that herd number.

Cattle/deer whose first movement after reaching one month of age is directly to a registered slaughter premises are to be identified with either an official primary ear tag or a direct-to-slaughter device. In all other cases of movement from the herd, the cattle/deer are to be identified with both an official primary ear tag and an official secondary identification device.

United Kingdom (UK)

The current UK system follows EU-wide rules on beef labeling. The rules are intended to meet consumers' concern that cattle and the meat from them should be more easily traceable.

The British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) now operates a system tracking every calf, cow and bull registered from birth to death. The ID protocol is strict. Each calf must be marked with double ear tags at birth. Producers then apply for a passport with numbers corresponding to the ear tags.

BCMS uses a bar code and optical character recognition system that can decipher hand-written letters and numbers. Reports of cattle movements can also be sent electronically. Passport applications must be accurately completed and sent to the BCMS within 15 days of tagging. Movements of cattle must be registered within 15 days and deaths must be reported within seven days.


Uruguay is moving toward a mandatory individual ID system on cattle through ear tags. It's part of Uruguay's efforts to comply with EU import requirements.