Industry group announces new animal ID database

A new livestock industry group will oversee a national animal-tracking database to protect public health and the economy, industry officials said today.

The U.S. Animal Identification Organization (USAIO) will run a Web-based system to track the movement of animals from birth to death, said Charles Miller, USAIO's chairman.

The ViaHerd database system, built by ViaTrace, is also a crisis-management tool, Miller said. ViaHerd can trace animals' location and interactions back 48 hours before a natural or bioterrorism-related disease outbreak, he said.

The voluntary system will improve supply-chain management for participants, said Joseph Queenan, vice president for strategic planning at ViaTrace.

ViaHerd will enable a targeted response to incidents, removing the need to shut down all trade when disease breaks out, Queenan said. Users can impose specific, appropriate restrictions and provide data to emergency management personnel.

ViaTrace is working with Microsoft to enable ViaHerd users to access secure data through mobile devices, Queenan said.

Farmers can go in the field, take a digital photo of an animal and use geographic information system technology to map the location of the animal in real time, he said.

ViaHerd is fully scalable and tracks animals that are uniquely identified, such as cattle, and those that are not, such as swine, Queenan said. It accepts data from a variety of sources, including radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, paper and DNA readers. It handles multiple species and works in 14 languages.

Only six weeks old, USAIO seeks to unify several regional animal-tracking programs, Miller said. Its board of trustees includes members from Agriculture Department pilot projects in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast, the National Bison Association, and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Today's announcement is the latest in the livestock industry's campaign to create a nationwide animal-tracking system. Last July, NCBA announced that it wanted to have a system in place by January, three years ahead of the 2009 deadline that the USDA set for its National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

Industry groups, members of Congress and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns have agreed they prefer an industry-run database to a government-run one. They have argued that a private-sector system would bypass the need for separate federal and state systems and protect data better.

'Without this database, NAIS goals cannot be met,' Miller said. ViaHerd will fit into any animal-tracking system that the USDA eventually picks, he said.

The system will use leading-edge technology to identify and track animals cost-effectively, said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas). He called it an example of industry taking necessary action without relying on government.

Producer groups and data-tracking companies such as ViaTrace are working with the USDA to establish data-sharing standards, said Becky Brewer-Walker, state veterinarian for Oklahoma.

USAIO has accepted data from industry groups and 20 states and expects to start taking data from individual producers sometime in the fall, Queenan said. He and Miller declined to say how many locations or animals are in the ViaHerd system because they said the information is confidential.

The system costs about 30 cents for the lifetime of each animal tracked but that figure should drop as more animals are put into the system, Queenan said. The cost of the system will be spread throughout the supply chain so producers don't have to bear the burden alone, Miller said.

Oklahoma's pilot project has had no problems using ViaHerd for data management, Brewer-Walker said. The difficulties have come in placing the RFID tag readers so that reading the tags doesn't slow the cattle's movement, she said.

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