March 15, 2004
Mar/Apr 2004 -- The discovery of BSE in a Washington dairy cow last December has spurred efforts to identify food animals from birth to slaughter.
But Cindy Wolf, assistant clinical specialist with the University of Minnesota, cautioned against accepting a U.S. Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) that doesn't work for the sheep industry.
"(The plan) is a work in progress," said Wolf, who chairs the Sheep Identification Working Group, one of several species groups involved. "We need your input to make it work. It is not final and it will not be final until we have greater industry support and buy-in."
The identification project, a cooperative effort of industry and government, was started in January 2003 and includes about 100 animal-industry professionals and producers from 70 associations, organizations and government agencies.
The goal is to be able identify within 48 hours of a disease's discovery any premises that had direct contact with that disease. This enhanced disease preparedness is designed to help U.S. producers gain and maintain market access and to promote consumer confidence in animal products.
Wolf emphasized that the sheep industry, with its work on pinpointing scrapie-infected sheep, is well ahead of larger species like cattle with identification planning. She added that the sheep industry must only accept a plan that fits its needs.
"We will need to have proof that it works," said Wolf. "What the cattle industry is willing to accept and embrace may not be appropriate for sheep. Sheep are not small cows."
Commenting on the identity program, John Clifford, associate deputy administrator, National Animal Health and Policy Program of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said each species group will develop its own identification plan.
"We're trying to meet a certain standard and allow the species groups enough flexibility to address their own needs," he said.
Ideally, Wolf said, an effective plan would work not only for national identification but also for tracking scrapie, other diseases and country-of-origin labeling.
As it currently stands, the essential components embodied in USAIP are a national premises identification system, an individual animal identification system, a group/lot identification system and the supporting infrastructure. Numbers will be used for each component and devices developed for printing and electronically encoding the number.
As a simplified example of how the system might work, a farm or ranch would receive its own seven-digit premises number. The producer would then receive and apply individual lifetime tags associated with his or her premises. The tags would be observed and recorded as an animal moves through the system, then retired at slaughter or death. A provision for group/lot identification would provide for identifying a group of animals, without individualized tags.
A couple of questions relating to such tags are how to delineate premises, for example in rangeland flocks, dealing with producers who have multiple premises and dealing with commingled flocks. In addition, there is concern that an effective electronic identification system for sheep has yet to be developed.
Wolf said a uniform identification method will be selected by each working group for its species, so systems may vary across species groups.
She listed other concerns, as raised during a sheep industry meeting on animal identification January 21 in Sacramento, including:
- the cost of identification and who will pay for it;
- whether the data will be secure and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act; and
- whether pets and hobby animals will be included in the system. Wolf said the public Web site has been receiving about 50 hits a day, and the greatest ire over the identification issue comes from pet livestock owners.
The USAIP timeline, which Wolf said is giving some people heartburn, calls for having a premises identification system in place by July 2004. Cattle, swine and small ruminants would be identified for interstate movement by July 2005, and all other species would be identified for movement by July 2006.
Wolf said the species working groups will submit reports by April 19 in preparation for a public meeting in Chicago May 18-20 ("Right in the thick of lambing," she said) during which the species groups will make their reports followed by in-depth discussions of the plan.
Members of the Sheep Identification Working Group, in addition to Wolf, are Bill Brennan, John Cargile, Paul Frischknecht, David Greene, Neil Hammerscmidt, Lyndon Irwin, Cleon Kimberling, Judy Malone, Chuck Palmer, Stan Poe Sr., Stan Potratz, Paul Rogers, Bill Salina, Bill Seals, Sandy Snider and Linda Campbell.
For more information on the U.S. Animal Identification Plan, go to Web site www.USAIP.info.