Animal ID system speeds to a gallop

The Agriculture Department will accelerate development of an automated identification system that can trace an individual animal through the livestock marketing chain within 48 hours.

In December, Agriculture had to trace back through paper records to find a cow in Washington state that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called mad cow disease. (Click for Dec. 29, 2003, GCN story).

No nationwide animal ID system exists, but Agriculture has supported several state programs, said Bill Hawks, undersecretary of Agriculture's marketing and regulatory programs, testifying yesterday before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee on Marketing, Inspection and Product Promotion.

The national animal ID system at first will be voluntary to encourage early adopters and eventually will set requirements for premises and animal identification.

Agriculture is funding pilots to select a flexible system that can accommodate many technologies used by farmers, ranchers, slaughterhouses and other groups in the meat supply chain.

'Our interests are in setting information standards, developing a database to which states and other entities can readily connect, and receiving data from those entities,' Hawks said. Federal funding for electronic readers might be available under agreements with participants, but there will be no money for individual radio-frequency ID tags for animals, he said.

Agriculture's top priority is to get the national premises allocator and database in place this year and begin distributing premises identification numbers to states that are ready to register cattle-holding facilities. States are expected to have their premises identification system in place this summer.

The department will provide some funding to states to develop interfaces with the national number allocators and repositories, Hawks said. Once participants have integrated with the national system and premises are registered, Agriculture can issue animal ID numbers to producers.

Also this year, Agriculture will qualify third parties, such as industry and trade associations, that have identification products or programs that could be integrated into the national system, Hawks said. By year's end, the department should be able to issue premises and animal ID numbers to third parties and begin receiving information from them.

Scaling up the national program would exceed any existing identification system elsewhere, including Canada, the European Union and Switzerland. The United States had 95 million head of cattle in January.

Data elements that Agriculture said require uniform, nationally recognized standards are:
  • Premises identification

  • Numbering systems for individual animals and groups of animals

  • Numbering systems for nonproducer participants such as tag distributors, animal health officials, laboratories and processing plants.

  • About the Author

    Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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