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USDA announces animal disease traceability rule

The Agriculture Department Thursday announced a much-awaited final rule on animal disease traceability, and the initial reactions of groups with an interest in it was positive.

This notice is expected to be published in the December 28 Federal Register.

Under the final rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock moved across state lines would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.

After considering the public comments received, the final rule has several differences from the proposed rule issued in August 2011. These include:
  • Accepting the use of brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by the shipping and receiving states or tribes
  • Permanently maintaining the use of backtags as an alternative to official eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter
  • Accepting movement documentation other than an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI) for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving states or tribes
  • Clarifying that all livestock moved interstate to a custom slaughter facility are exempt from the regulations
  • Exempting chicks moved interstate from a hatchery from the official identification requirements
  • Beef cattle under 18 months of age, unless they are moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos, or recreational events, are exempt from the official identification requirement in this rule. These specific traceability requirements for this group will be addressed in separate rulemaking, allowing the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to work closely with industry to ensure the effective implementation of the identification requirements.

"With the final rule announced today, the United States now has a flexible, effective animal disease traceability system for livestock moving interstate, without undue burdens for ranchers and U.S. livestock businesses," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"The final rule meets the diverse needs of the countryside where states and tribes can develop systems for tracking animals that work best for them and their producers, while addressing any gaps in our overall disease response efforts," Vilsack said. "Over the past several years, USDA has listened carefully to America's farmers and ranchers, working collaboratively to establish a system of tools and safeguards that will help us target when and where animal diseases occur, and help us respond quickly."

A coalition of organizations representing family farmers, ranchers, and consumers from across the country expressed cautious optimism about the rule.

The groups included the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, R-CALF USA, the Western Organization of Resource Councils, the National Family Farm Coalition and Food and Water Watch.

Among the important changes announced by USDA, the groups said, are:

  • The exclusion of chicks sold by hatcheries across state lines from identification requirements;
  • The recognition of brands and tattoos as official forms of identification;
  • The continued use of back tags as an alternative to ear tags for cattle going to slaughter; and
  • The exclusion of beef feeder cattle from this rule, except for rodeo and show cattle.

The National Pork Producers Council issued a statement praising USDA for issuing the rule.

“An effective traceability system is critical to our nation’s animal health infrastructure and is one of the components the World Organization for Animal Health considers essential for an effective veterinary services program,” said NPPC President R.C. Hunt, a pork producer from Wilson, N.C.

“The goal of a traceability system is trace back of an animal to its farm of origin within 48 hours of the discovery of a disease,” he said. “That would allow a disease to be brought under control and eradicated more quickly, saving animals — and taxpayer dollars – and keeping foreign markets open to our exports.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said it in the process of reviewing the rule, but that it was encouraged from Vilsack's comments that many of the priorities of cattle ranchers have been considered in this final rule.

“Brands will be recognized when accompanied by an official brand inspection certificate as means of official identification for cattle,” the NCBA said. “The rule will also allow flexibility in tagging procedures and paper work. Most important to cattle producers is the secretary’s announcement of separate rulemaking for beef cattle under 18 months of age.”