USAHA supports livestock identification plan, bolstering security for food supply

Published on January 15, 2004
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Last October, before the country's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy prompted the Department of Agriculture's immediate implementation of a national animal identification system, the U.S. Animal Health Association endorsed the scheme, which would allow for rapid tracking of livestock exposed to BSE and other infectious pathogens.

Support for the draft U.S. Animal Identification Plan was one of 30 resolutions the organization of state and federal animal health officials, veterinarians, research scientists, and livestock producers approved during its 107th annual meeting, Oct. 9-16, 2003, in San Diego.

Prior to the USDA's announcement in December, the USAHA Committee on Livestock Identification, one of the organization's several science-based entities, submitted the resolution endorsing the U.S. Animal Identification Plan, but also called it a "work in progress" requiring further refinement.

Numerous entities, including state agencies, industry, and the USDA, had been working together for several years to create a system for identifying and tracking livestock. The ability to track livestock movement at all stages—from farm to processing plant—would mitigate the damage of an animal disease outbreak. Because the Holstein cow in Washington state that tested positive for BSE in December bore an ear tag with an identification number, federal investigators were able to track the cow to her birth herd in Alberta, Canada.

The initial phase of the animal identification plan was to be in place this July and fully implemented by 2006. But the confirmation of BSE led Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman to announce on Dec. 30 that she wanted the system up and running as soon as possible (see page 345).

During the USAHA meeting, held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, Dr. Donald H. Lein, Ithaca, N.Y., became USAHA president.

Dr. Bernard Vallat, director general of the Office International des Epizooties in Paris, delivered the meeting's keynote address. Part of Dr. Vallat's talk dealt with the effects of animal disease on trade policies.

One novel concept, Dr. Vallat noted, would be separating infected animal populations or animal production systems rather than isolating entire regions where disease activity is reported.

"OIE standards are the key tool to facilitate safe and fair trade," he said. "The golden rule is to treat others as you would have them treat you."

This February, the OIE is hosting a global conference on animal welfare for the purpose of creating guiding principles for the 164 OIE member nations, Dr. Vallat said. Transportation, humane slaughter, and depopulation for disease control will be addressed first, followed by housing and management.

The USAHA also passed resolutions calling on the Department of Homeland Security to make prevention of animal and plant bioterrorism and providing security for the nation's food supply a "critical priority"; opposing legislative or regulatory action that might result in unnecessary restrictions on the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture; and highlighting the need for interagency cooperation to protect humans and animals from disease by controlling the importation and interstate movement of exotic and wild animals.

Relatedly, the AVMA recently expanded its policy on translocation of wildlife to include the international movement of wildlife. The policy states that all potential consequences of moving wildlife, such as disease transmission, should be considered (see JAVMA, Jan. 1, 2004, page 18).

The 30 USAHA resolutions, addressing such animal health matters as a national control program for equine infectious anemia, scrapie, and procedures for aquatic animal health inspectors, can be viewed at