The possibility of a foreign animal disease outbreak seems to be on everyone's minds these days. So, what if it happens? Are we ready to respond?
According to several speakers at the recent AASV annual meeting, one of the biggest gaps in our ability to respond is the lack of a national animal identification system.
According to Neil Hammerschmidt, chief operating officer of Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium, the current system of tracking animals, through the Market Cattle Identification and Market Swine Identification systems, will diminish in usefulness as the veterinary profession eradicates brucellosis, pseudorabies, and tuberculosis. A national animal identification program is essential for herd health.
There are other reasons, however, that such a system is desirable. Future requirements associated with the country-of-origin labeling mandate, which was part of the 2002 Farm Bill, will require animal identification to be incorporated at various production points. In addition, international markets are developing more stringent animal ID systems—many countries' systems are already technical barriers to trade for the United States.
"But is traceability of pigs from birth to slaughter possible?" questioned Dr. Rick Sibbel, president of AASV. "I predict that in five years, it will be."
In April 2002, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture established a National Food Animal Identification Task Force to develop a plan for consideration by the animal agriculture industry, as well as state and federal animal health officials. Hammerschmidt reported on the progress of this plan at the AASV meeting.
The task force believes that to be effective, the system must have the capability to identify all premises that had direct contact with a foreign animal disease within 48 hours after discovery. This can be achieved only if the movement of individual animals, or units of animals, is recorded in a central database or seamlessly linked database infrastructure.
Key data elements needed include a uniform premises identification system; a uniform, nationally recognizable numbering system for individual animal identification; and a uniform, nationally recognizable numbering system for a lot or group of animals. "Right now, we have different numbering systems," Hammerschmidt exclaimed.
Focusing their energies, the task force created the National Identification Work Plan, which lays out strategies for achieving these elements. The plan includes standards for identification devices to ensure minimum performance, as well as standards for the integration of automated data collection systems. It also outlines standards for visual and electronic identification methods, such as using radio frequency ID.
Currently, most market swine are tracked as groups for production management purposes, and detailed group movement records exist. A national system, however, is still needed. For the various food animal groups, the task force has suggested target dates to complete phases of the project.
Hammerschmidt outlined these phases for swine. The national premises system, phase I, should be implemented by July 2004. At a minimum, this phase will require premises identification for all replacement breeder swine as they enter the breeding herd.
Phase II involves standardizing animal identification. By January 2005, groups and lot identification should identify the location where the group was created and the date it was assembled. An electronic identification system should be designed by July 2005.
Phase III is tracking animal movements and locations. The task force hopes to be able to electronically report interstate movements by July 2005 and intrastate movements by July 2006.
In October 2002, the United States Animal Health Association accepted the task force's National Identification Work Plan as a guide to establishing a national program. The next step is to work out the details of the plan. The Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been asked to take the lead on this effort and has organized a National Animal Identification Team Steering Committee, with state animal health officials and industry representatives participating. The report of the steering committee is to be given at the USAHA meeting in October 2003.