If there’s a lesson to be learned from the long and often contentious road that USDA traveled in its effort to implement a nationwide animal disease traceability (ADT) system, it’s that patience, persistence and a lot of listening are crucial.

That road took a major turn on March 11, when the new ADT rule went into effect. And while the road will wind on, no doubt with its ongoing share of bumps and potholes, cattlemen now have a roadmap to follow. Where it will eventually lead isn’t yet certain, but we at least know this: the journey has begun.

According to Neil Hammerschmidt, USDA’s point man for animal disease traceability, the concept behind ADT is to minimize the burden on producers. Under the rule, animals moved interstate, unless exempted, must be officially and individually identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection, which is issued by an accredited veterinarian. This certificate must include the ID number, owner’s name and physical address of the location where the animals originated.

The rule affects dairy cattle of all ages; all sexually intact beef cattle older than 18 months; cattle of any age used for rodeos, shows, exhibitions, competitions or recreational events; as well as sheep, goats, captive deer and elk, all equine and poultry. Currently, beef cattle under 18 months of age are exempt from the requirement.

What’s more, while “official” ID consists of an official ear tag and the interstate movement certificate, the rules allow for flexibility between states. If two states, or states and tribes, agree, other means of ID, such as brands and a brand certificate, are acceptable.

“What we have to realize,” Hammerschmidt says, “is that when a state receives animals on a different method of ID than the official ear tag, that doesn’t mean those animals are good to move to another state.” If they move again, they will either have to carry an official ear tag or move under a separate state-to-state agreement and be so identified.

According to Hammerschmidt, the official ear tag will include the official shield, which is much like the logo of the interstate highway system, with either “US” or the state postal abbreviation inside. In addition, the tag will have a unique animal ID number.

At present, that animal ID number can come from one of several different numbering systems – a National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES) number, which is typically the silver USDA “brite” tag; an Animal Identification Number, or the “840” number; a location-based numbering system, like the sheep scrapie tags, or various breed ID systems, most often used in the dairy industry.

While the rule became effective March 11, USDA established a transition period of several years to allow producers to ease into the system. “All tags manufactured after March 11, 2014, should have the US shield,” Hammerschmidt says. “Then, all tags applied after March 11, 2015, must have the US shield.”

Also during the transition period, official tags will move from several acceptable ID numbers to just the 840 Animal Identification Number, he says.

So, while using an 840 tag now is good, it’s not required. An animal tagged today without an official ear tag is okay, for the life of the animal. “We don’t want producers to have to re-tag animals.” But if an animal is tagged two years from now, it must be with an official ID eartag.

Animals imported from Canada or Mexico won’t have to be re-tagged either, he says. “If that animal comes in with an official ear tag, recognized by Canada or Mexico, that tag is equivalent to a NUES or 840 tag. It’s the official ID of that animal for its life,” he says.

 

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The official tags will be distributed through the state veterinarian in each state, who will be required to maintain a record of where the tags were distributed.

For the foreseeable future, USDA will focus on communication and education, Hammerschmidt says, making sure everyone’s aware of the rule and making an effort to comply. And he realizes there will be a few bumps in the road. “But I think we’ll work through those issues over time.”

For now, he’s happy that the journey has begun. “I think the concepts and principles we’ve laid out in our new approach, where the states take the lead on implementing ADT, is good.”

To learn more, go to www.aphis.usda.gov/traceability.

 

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