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November 02, 2011   Email to Friend 

State Considers New Animal Disease Traceability System
Debra Davis

Federation State Beef Committee Chairman Tommy Maples, left, discusses the proposed animal disease traceability rule with Federation Beef Division Director Nate Jaeger.
Alabama beef cattle producers may be positioning themselves as pioneers on the national livestock scene by implementing a new animal disease traceability system ahead of federal requirements.

The federal requirements are in response to the USDA Animal Disease Traceability program, which puts laws in place that require state departments of agriculture to keep track of livestock that cross state borders.

State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Frazier said animal disease traceability has been discussed for years, and as USDA officials fine-tune measures to implement a national program, Alabama is making a proactive move to be ready for the plan.

"We know that animal identification is eminent, but we don't know exactly when it's coming," Frazier said. "The federal regulations are still in the rule-making process, which typically takes at least two years. But producers here want to be ready when it does happen, and it's advantageous for our cattlemen to be in a position of compliance as soon as possible."

In response to requests from Alabama beef producers, including members of the Alabama Farmers Federation's State Beef Committee, Frazier developed a proposed state rule. That plan is under review by state attorneys. Upon completion of the review, it will be submitted to the State Board of Agriculture and Industries, followed by a legislative review committee's consideration.

"The state traceability system would start with adult cows being identified and eventually come to include all beef cattle, including calves," Frazier said. "It might be five or 10 years before all the beef cattle in our state are tagged, but that's where we're eventually headed. We also want to make sure our state has a system in place to keep up with the identification because identification without traceability is worthless."

Federation State Beef Committee Chairman Tommy Maples of Elkmont owns a registered Black Angus herd and a herd of crossbred cows with his dad, Billy, in Limestone County. He said he supports the traceability program because he supports a healthy cattle population.

"If a disease outbreak did occur, we could quickly identify where it came from and address it," he said. "It protects me as well as other producers whose animals were not part of a problem." Federation Beef Division Director Nate Jaeger said the program is important to help safeguard herd health and protect market access for beef both domestically and internationally. More importantly, this rule ensures Alabama farmers are in compliance with proposed federal regulations and could serve as a model for other southeastern states.

Details of the proposed state rule are being finalized; however, the main requirements are similar to the former Brucellosis program used in the state from the 1970s and '80s. The proposed rule would require all cattle (starting with adult breeding-age cattle) be tagged with official identification before animals change ownership. Official identification is outlined in the USDA Animal Disease Traceability program and includes radio frequency identification (RFID) ear tags, panel tags and metal "Brite" tags.

Official identification tags will be assigned and allocated by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to farmers, and each tag will have unique individual numbers. The proposed federal animal disease traceability program dictates that farmers will not be forced to use a particular type of tag. Current plans for the Alabama rule allow for farmers to acquire the metal "Brite" tags for free from the state veterinarian's office.

"This system also will help me, as state veterinarian, to make sure I can respond quickly in the case of an outbreak, which could be a natural occurrence or an intentional threat to our food security," he said.

For more information about the proposed state rule, contact Frazier at (334) 240-7253 or email him at stvet@agi.alabama.gov.



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