Depending on how you perceive it, animal disease traceability is either an idea that’s too important to abandon in spite of all the complications, or a nuisance that just refuses to die. The federal Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system, with its limited scope, has operated for five years. From the start, many believed the system would need to expand to become truly effective, but the UDSA has taken a cautious and deliberate approach toward expanding the program to cover more producers and more classes of cattle.
The time might finally be right for the U.S. livestock industry to support and implement a comprehensive system for rapidly tracking emerging animal diseases and containing them before they cause serious damage. We’ve seen the consequences of international outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, avian influenza, African swine fever and others, and here in the United States, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. We’ve also come to increasingly depend on exports to support our markets for meat and dairy products. At the same time, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has advanced over the past 15 years to new levels of convenience and affordability.
This week, the USDA announced its goals for updating and expanding the ADT system, including plans for cost-sharing for electronic ID and birth-to-slaughter traceability for cattle.
USDA’s four overarching goals for increasing traceability are:
- Advance the electronic sharing of data among federal and state animal health officials, veterinarians and industry; including sharing basic animal disease traceability data with the federal animal health events repository (AHER).
- Use electronic ID tags for animals requiring individual identification in order to make the transmission of data more efficient;
- Enhance the ability to track animals from birth to slaughter through a system that allows tracking data points to be connected; and
- Elevate the discussion with States and industry to work toward a system where animal health certificates are electronically transmitted from private veterinarians to state animal health officials.
These discussions began in earnest back in 2003, when the USDA formed a national working group with representatives from across the livestock industry to hammer out a preliminary plan for a traceability system. That working group developed the U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP), which evolved into USDA’s National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in 2004. Grass-roots resistance to NAIS grew, and the program never gained traction.
Nearly a decade later, in 2013, USDA launched its Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) system, a useful but extremely limited program that remains in place today. The current ADT program focuses on interstate movement of breeding–age cattle, 18 months of age or older, and dairy cattle. The program exempts beef calves and feeder cattle, which travel in the greatest numbers and pose the greatest risk for spreading disease as they move through marketing channels and co-mingle with cattle from multiple sources.
Over the spring and summer of 2017, the USDA hosted a series of public meetings to solicit stakeholder feedback on the existing program and the next steps. In September, USDA officials discussed the results of those meetings during a strategy forum hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the U.S. Animal Health Association.
Based on public feedback, a state and federal ADT working group has developed a list of preliminary recommendations on key issues, including a shift toward exclusive use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices for official animal ID and eventually, inclusion of feeder-cattle movements. USDA used that feedback to develop their current goals for the system.
The state of Kansas, meanwhile, is moving forward with its “CattleTrace” pilot program, a public-private collaboration focused on ranch-to-slaughter traceability for disease surveillance and intervention. In December 2017, the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) voted for policy supporting mandatory cattle disease traceability for all ages of cattle, which provided momentum for the program. In addition to the KLA, CattleTrace partners include Kansas State University, the Kansas Department of Agriculture, USDA, and individual producer stakeholders. It is being jointly funded by public and private resources.
Participants plan to enroll and track about 55,000 cattle over the next two years, using ultra-high-frequency (UHF) tags and readers, which allow users to quickly capture individual ID numbers from groups of cattle. The program’s planners designed the system to collect the minimum of necessary information for tracking in a disease outbreak – just an individual animal ID number, a GPS location, date and time.
The CattleTrace system has good potential to serve as a model for expansion of the national ADT program. The KLA policy demonstrates growing recognition of the need for traceability among cattle producers, and today’s technology can enable full traceability with more speed, accuracy, efficiency and security compared with anything we discussed back in 2003.
Moving forward, USDA wants to continue to build on the current momentum around animal disease traceability, and will begin implementing their new ADT goals starting in fiscal year 2019. USDA plans to work with state partners and industry to establish appropriate benchmarks to measure progress toward the program’s goals.
Read more about the Kansas CattleTrace system in “Disease Traceability: Better Late than Never.