Animal Disease Traceability

The Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) Rule [Docket No. APHIS–2009–0091], which took effect in March 2013, establishes minimum national official identification and documentation requirements for the traceability of livestock moving interstate. The purpose of the ADT Rule is to improve disease traceability, enhance disease response, and minimize losses.

Animals covered by the ADT Rule

The identification and documentation requirements for each kind of animal covered by the Rule are summarized in the USDA’s ADT Rule Summary of General Requirements by Species and outlined briefly below. Some states have even more stringent requirements in place. For specific state requirements, check the USDA’s webpage on State Regulations for Importing Animals or contact the State Veterinarian's office for the state in question.


Unless specifically exempted by the ADT Rule, livestock covered by the Rule and moved interstate must be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection (CVI) or other documentation. Livestock species kept as pets are held to the same requirements as production animals of the same species.

The requirements do not apply to livestock moving:

  • Entirely within Tribal Lands that straddles a state line, if the Tribe has a separate traceability system from the state in which its lands are located; or
  • To a custom slaughter facility in accordance with federal and state regulations.

Other exemptions are applied on a species-specific basis. See the USDA’s ADT Rule Summary of General Requirements by Species for a useful summary.

Flexibility for Rule implementation by states and Native American Lands

The ADT Rule specifies approved forms of official identification for each species, but also allows covered livestock to be moved interstate with alternative forms of identification when agreed upon by animal health officials in the shipping and receiving states or Tribes. If you have heard or know that a receiving state or Tribe allows a recognized alternative form of official animal ID (brand, tattoo, etc.) for livestock, be sure to contact your State Veterinarian before you issue the CVI based on that alternative ID. The shipping and receiving state or Tribe need to have an agreement on this in place before animals are sent there with only alternative forms of official ID. Furthermore, based upon the agreement, there may be additional requirements for interstate movement of animals with only alternative forms of ID.

Official ear tags and other ID devices

Official ear tags are identification tags that are approved by APHIS and bear an official identification number for individual animals. See Official Eartags – Criteria and Options (APHIS-VS) for a summary of ear tags acceptable for different species.

  • Beginning March 11, 2014, all official ear tags manufactured must bear an official ear tag shield.
  • Beginning March 11, 2015, all official ear tags applied to animals must bear an official ear tag shield.
  • The design, size, shape, color, and other characteristics of the official ear tag will depend on the needs of the users, subject to the approval of the Administrator.
  • The official ear tag must be tamper-resistant and have a high retention rate in the animal.

Read and record the existing ID. Do not just apply another one.
With limited exceptions (9 CFR 86.4), no more than one official ear tag may be applied to an animal.

  • Another official ear tag may be applied providing it bears the same official identification number as an existing one.
  • In specific cases, a state or Tribal animal health official or an Area Veterinarian in Charge may approve the application of an additional official ear tag to an animal that already has one or more. This involves specific requirements for documentation and record retention.

Removal of official ID
Removal of official identification is prohibited except in the following circumstances. (See 9 CFR 86.4(d).)

  • At slaughter or other cause of the animal’s death.
  • When otherwise approved by the state or Tribal animal health official or a USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Area Veterinarian.

Loss and replacement of official ID
If an animal loses an official identification device and needs a new one:

  • A replacement tag with a different official identification number may be applied. This involves specific requirements for documentation and record retention.
  • Replacement of a temporary identification device with a new official identification device is considered to be a retagging event and involves specific requirements for documentation and record retention.
  • A duplicate replacement ear tag with the official number of the lost tag may be applied in accordance with APHIS' protocol.  Check with your State Veterinarian to find out how this is handled in your state.
  • See 9 CFR 86.4(d) for more detail.

Replacement of official identification devices for reasons other than loss
This is only to be done under the direction of your state or Tribal animal health official or USDA APHIS Veterinary Services Area Veterinarian in Charge. See 9 CFR 86.4(e) for more detail.

Distribution of National Uniform Eartagging System (NUES) ear tags (a.k.a. "brite tags") to producers
As stated in the Animal Disease Traceability General Standards:

"State, Tribal, and Territory animal health officials and accredited veterinarians may provide NUES (National Uniform Eartagging System) identification ear tags (a.k.a. "brite tags") to cattle and bison producers who wish to use them for official identification and other purposes without administering the ear tags through a specific disease program. This does not apply to ear tags that are specific to a disease program, such as brucellosis calfhood vaccination ear tags. This enables producers to use the ear tags as a tool to qualify their animals for interstate movement. In such cases, the State, Tribe, or Territory animal health officials will maintain complete oversight for the integrity of the information."

Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI)

Interstate Certificates of Veterinary Inspection (CVIs), while commonly used prior to the ADT Rule, are now thoroughly defined by regulation to ensure information necessary to support traceability is completed uniformly on the certificates.  Additionally, the Rule requires that the accredited veterinarian issuing the interstate CVI forward a copy of it and other documents accompanying the covered livestock to the animal health official of the state or Tribe of origin within 7 calendar days from the date it is issued. Then, that official must forward it to the state or Tribe of destination within 7 calendar days of having received it.

As was the case before the ADT Rule went into effect, state regulations pertaining to livestock importation vary across the nation. With enactment of the ADT Rule, a standard baseline now exists. It is important to note that the import regulations of some states and territories may be more stringent than the Rule.


For additional information about the ADT Rule, refer to these sources.