September 15, 2011


 APHIS proposes new framework for tracing food animals


Posted Aug. 31, 2011  

Federal agriculture authorities want to require identification and veterinary inspection for nearly all livestock that cross state lines.

In a proposal announced Aug. 9 and published Aug. 11 in the Federal Register, the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service indicated the new rules would require that state and tribal governments collect information on livestock movements across their boundaries. That information would be used to trace the origins and movements of those animals during disease outbreaks.

cattle feeding
(Photo by Greg Cima)

Facilities such as stockyards and livestock markets would also need to keep records of veterinary inspections for at least five years.

APHIS is, through Nov. 9, seeking comments on the plan, which is intended to decrease the time and cost associated with investigating animal disease outbreaks. The agency will respond to the comments in a final rule 12 to 15 months after the comment period closes, an APHIS spokeswoman said.

To view or comment on the proposal, go to and search for APHIS-2009-0091.

APHIS officials had indicated during a July 19 session at the 2011 AVMA Annual Convention that a framework is coming together to trace the origins of food animals during disease outbreaks in the United States.

In the session on the future of traceability, Dr. John R. Clifford, deputy administrator for APHIS Veterinary Services, said the cattle industry would be the highest priority for the new system, because the commercial swine and poultry industries already have good tracing abilities.

"We're looking at getting more cattle ID with this," Dr. Clifford said. "We do not have to have a final rule in place to get IDs in cattle's ears."

The agency's proposal similarly expresses particular concern about "inadequacies in disease tracing capabilities in the cattle industry" that have emerged with the success in eliminating nearly all brucellosis cases in the U.S. That success has been met with a steep decline in the number of cattle identified through tattoos and eartags, from 10 million calves in 1988, when only half the states were considered to be free of the disease, to 3.1 million in 2010, when only the area around Yellowstone National Park was known to contain reservoirs of the disease.

"As a result of decreasing levels of official identification in cattle, the time required to conduct other disease investigations is increasing," the proposed rule states. "For example, disease investigations for bovine tuberculosis frequently now exceed 150 days as USDA and state investigative teams spend substantially more time and money in conducting tracebacks. The decreased level of official identification has resulted in an expansion of the scope of investigations to identify suspect and exposed animals, necessitating the testing of thousands of cattle that would otherwise not have needed to be tested."

Dr. Gregory L. ParhamDr. John R. Clifford
Dr. Gregory L. Parham (left), administrator of the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and Dr. John R. Clifford, deputy administrator for APHIS Veterinary Services, speak at the AVMA Annual Convention about their agency's proposal for a framework for tracing food animals.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an Aug. 9 conference call with news media he is confident the new system will improve the response to disease outbreaks, which he thinks could take days or weeks rather than lengthy periods such as those needed for bovine tuberculosis investigations. He also indicated the tracing system could help U.S. livestock owners market their products while providing an animal origin tracing system that is flexible and responsive to producers' needs.

"This is a discussion we've been having in this country for a long time, and it's high time that we get to a point where we actually have a system that works,"

The USDA previously spent more than $120 million trying to develop and implement a voluntary identification program, the National Animal Identification System, but only 36 percent of U.S. animal producers were participating when the department announced in February 2010 that the program would be replaced. The program had been proposed in 2003 as a way to rapidly identify the animals and locations potentially affected by disease outbreaks.

The new program would be required by federal authorities but led and administered by state and tribal governments, APHIS information states.

The proposed rule indicates states will have to accept some forms of official identification, such as some metal ear tags with nationally unique identification numbers. Other forms of identification, such as branding and tattoos, could be used if the states sending and receiving the animals both agree to accept such identification.

During the July 19 session at the AVMA Annual Convention, Dr. Clifford said APHIS' role in the new system would involve coordinating the livestock tracing activities.

"It's going to be the role of the states and tribes to implement them," he said.

Dr. Gregory L. Parham, APHIS administrator, said in the session that veterinarians need to remain vigilant to ensure that emerging diseases do not become established. He discussed the scope of his agency's efforts to protect and promote animal health and emphasized the centrality of surveillance to the agency's mission.

"Early response and detection are still the key to controlling and eradicating animal diseases," Dr. Parham said.

A statement from Dr. Ron DeHaven, AVMA CEO and a former APHIS administrator, commends the collaborative approach taken by APHIS in developing the proposal and indicates the AVMA will work with USDA to develop an effective animal disease traceability system with minimal burden on those responsible for implementing the system.

"From a veterinary perspective, preventing and controlling the spread of infectious disease is paramount to protecting our nation's herds and flocks and maintaining a safe food supply," Dr. DeHaven said.

To view or comment on the proposal, go to and search for APHIS-2009-0091.