By Ross McSwain
November 2004 -- Technology and the cost of proposed animal identification programs are among the primary issues ahead for American sheep, cattle and swine producers, despite the fact that a national animal ID program is inevitable.
David Greene of White Hall, Md., a sheep producer who chairs the American Sheep Industry Association?s Producer Education and Research Committee, said the sheep working group presented its identification plan recently at a Chicago meeting along with representatives of the cattle and swine industries.
According to Greene, the sheep working group asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and others working on the U.S. Animal Health Identification Plan at the Chicago session to allow the industry to use the program already in place. The sheep and goat industries, along with USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the states, set up an animal ID program to go along with the National scrapie eradication program.
Dr. Cindy Wolf, speaking to a meeting of the Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers? Association during its annual summer session in Kerrville, told producers that ?we asked that we be allowed to continue that program in place of the animal ID plan until it is proven that there is a better system in place. We want to evolve and build from the scrapie program ? not just start over,? she said.
Wolf, vice chair of ASI?s animal health committee, also serves on the industry?s work group.
Wolf said many sheep and goat producers already have premise numbers because of the scrapie program. The industry?s working group hopes that these premise identifications could be transferred over when the animal ID program goes into effect.
There is a weakness in the scrapie ID program, Wolf said, pointing out that the current form of ID used in the scrapie program is a manual visual system which would make the U.S. Animal Identification Plan?s 48-hour trace-back requirement difficult, if not impossible, to meet.
?Identifying individual animals is not hard,? Wolf said. ?It?s the tracking of the individuals that would be the real challenge.?
According to Wolf and Greene, supporters of the national animal identification program favor electronic eartags, also called ?radio frequency identification,? or RFID. Wolf believes the ultimate program once established will be electronic ID, but she cautions that RFID tags do not perform very well on sheep and goats because more space is needed between animals to read the tags and sheep and goats tend to ?bunch up and stick their head in the rear of the other when stressed.?
Greene agreed, noting that the sheep industry is so fragmented that a combination program of electronic and visual means might be necessary.
?We certainly need more research before the mandatory program kicks in,? he said.
Tom McDonnell, an ASI representative, recently met with the New Mexico Wool Growers Association during that organization?s summer session held in Ruidoso.
According to McDonnell, more than 50,000 sheep operations have signed up for premise numbers associated with the scrapie eradication program. He said ASI is working toward making the scrapie eradication program the basis for the new animal identification program for sheep.
He told New Mexico producers that the main purpose of the animal ID program is to be able to trace animals back through the production chain in the event of a disease outbreak like the mad cow disease and hoof-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Great Britain a few years ago.
Meanwhile, the cattle industry is very concerned about how the animal ID program will work.
R. Scott Stuart, president of the National Livestock Producers Association and a member of the market and processor working group, said his organization represents cooperative livestock marketing associations nationwide that handle more than 7.5 million head of livestock for nearly 200,000 individual producers.
Stuart says his organization is concerned about several issues in regard to the National Animal Identification Program. These concerns include (1) cost of implementation; (2) competitive disadvantages; (3) animal welfare during application and reading; (4) movement outside of marketing facilities; and (5) determination of who will apply the system and technology used to implement the system.
?Although producers are concerned what their ID devices may cost, and rightly so, our members are concerned with what it will cost them to equip, maintain and adequately staff their operations in order to comply with the NAIS (National Animal Identification System),? Stuart reported in a statement to members. ?In addition, if the USDA is either unwilling or unable to provide adequate funding for the necessary collection of animal movement data, we are concerned as to how it will be funded.?
Greene, a member of ASI's Executive Board, said he believes that most sheep producers understand ?why we are doing this. But it shouldn?t be a monetary drag on their business.?