• Why must a national identification (ID) program be mandatory?

    At this point, USDA isn't saying the program is mandatory. But its stands to reason that if the aim is traceback on all animals within 48 hours, a voluntary program won't work. A mandatory program might not be how the program starts, but it will end up there.

  • Why is radio-frequency identification (RFID) the technology of choice for a national ID program?

    The guiding principle of the national ID plan is to build a system that allows traceback of all livestock within 48 hours. And, to do it as easily, efficiently and cost effectively as possible for producers.

    Given the geographic size of the U.S., its cattle population and the number of operations, RFID has been cited as the most efficient means. RFID devices are the most common form of electronic ID used in U.S. cattle. And, the ear tag is the most widely used method of attaching RFID to the animal.

    RFID eliminates the potential mistakes of transferring data by hand. It's also the most cost-effective way to associate data. Imagine the labor costs, and the recording mistakes, that would be possible if auction markets had to hire people to transfer cattle ID numbers by hand.

  • What about biometric ID methods such as retinal and iris scanning and DNA testing?

    As the plan evolves, there will be room for other technologies as the need arises. RFID's strength is that its use is widespread. Therefore, it's considered the fastest route toward implementing a national system in the cattle industry.

    There will be species differences, however. The equine industry, for instance, might balk at putting RFID tags in horses' ears. It's up to each species to decide.

  • What would such a national ID program cost and who would pay?

    The U.S. Animal Identification Plan estimates that implementation costs for a national livestock ID program would be around $500 million for the first six years. This would cover the costs of communication, infrastructure, administration and startup.

    How and who will pay what still remains to be settled, but most countries with national programs have utilized government-industry partnerships.

    It's up to the industry to provide a plan for funding, and alternatives are under discussion. Right now, the national ID push falls under animal health, but a case could potentially be made for cost share with homeland security.

  • What about producer liability through such a mandatory system? Will producers be more or less at risk should a food safety problem emerge?

    Certainly, some producers are worried they'll be blamed for problems over which they had no control once animals left their premises. But, elective collection of data beyond what a national program would require could protect producers in such cases. This type of elective information would include things like management practices employed, animal health programs, other inputs, etc.

    Producer liability shouldn't change under a national ID program, however, adds Robert Fourdraine, manager of the Wisconsin Livestock ID Consortium. Currently, the producer is liable for knowingly marketing an animal unfit for human consumption. That will still be the case under a national ID system. But, it's doubtful any system could track contaminated ground beef, for instance, to its farm of origin, he adds.

  • How about data privacy? Who will have access to the information?

    Data privacy is another area to be worked out, but everyone involved agrees it is an area of prime concern. They also agree that the data collected is intended solely for the use of animal health officials in the event that traceback is needed.

  • How will the effort to create an ID system progress from here?

    A work plan has been accepted that will serve as the base line to move on developing a program. See the report at www.usaip.info.

    That document includes a timeline for moving a program through the development and implementation stages. But final rulemaking is a ways off.

    The work plan is currently in a 60-day comment period that ends Dec. 31. In addition, species groups, which will develop implementation plans for their respective industries, are now being formed. It's hoped that the work of these groups will be completed by March or April 2004.

    Producers need to inform themselves about the program, then register their feedback.

  • Which countries currently have national livestock ID programs?

    Canada, New Zealand and the European Union and Great Britain have mandatory programs. Australia's program is voluntary, except for the state of Victoria where electronic ear tagging is compulsory. Japan is fine-tuning and expanding its mandatory program to cover farm to fork.

    Meanwhile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have begun to implement national ID systems, and Mexico is moving that way, as well. See “Around The ID World,” p. 52.

  • Canada has a mandatory system, but was still devastated by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Didn't the program work?

    Actually, the Canadian program worked as intended. The program's aim was to provide a means to quickly trace suspect animals to identify its production stops and other animals it may have contacted. The system played a major role in Canada's BSE investigation to find offspring from the infected herd.

  • What's the relationship between individual animal ID and country-of-origin labeling (COOL)?

    There is no legislated connection, though some system of animal documentation is needed to comply with COOL legislation.

    Animal ID is an animal disease control tool. In the event of an animal disease outbreak, its aim is to allow the tracking of any animal within 48 hours. For all practical purposes, 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 think American consumers will prefer U.S. beef product to foreign product.

  • What is your advice to producers anxious about such a program?

    Assuming the funding falls into place as outlined in the work plan accepted by the U.S. Animal Health Association, enterprising managers can utilize the system as the foundation to add tools and services that will build more focus into their herd management. Take the time to learn about the program so that, when it does come, you can make it work for you.