The USDA has abandoned the National Animal Identification System in favor of a new approach — placing the responsibility for animal traceability on states, tribal nations and the livestock industry itself. They will be charged with determining priorities and requirements for animal traceability.

USDA made the move following months of listening sessions where they heard concerns about NAIS involving confidentiality, liability and cost, as well as objections to a mandated system.

“The new traceability approach will give us the ability to respond to a disease outbreak without over-burdening livestock producers; it applies only to interstate movement and complements existing disease programs,” says Edward Avelos, USDA undersecretary.

As the states, tribes and the various livestock sectors struggle to grasp exactly what form the new animal ID system will take, and how best to maintain its effectiveness, many have expressed concern.

“The decision to scrap NAIS could seriously hinder U.S. veterinarians’ ability to track diseased animals and prevent the spread of those diseases,” says Ron DeHaven, DVM, American Veterinary Medical Association’s chief executive officer and former head of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

According to DeHaven, a major problem with USDA abandoning NAIS is that there will be no animal ID system during this new development period, which could take years.

With animal ID systems developed by the various entities, concern arises about standardization, compatibility and reportability. Also, with state and local budgets already stretched to the breaking point, the question is will funding to develop reliable traceability programs even be available?

“Will we actually be able to trace animals as they move from state to state with different systems in each state or tribal nation?” DeHaven wonders.

For the pork industry, this new direction in animal ID actually increases the importance of premises identification.

“Despite USDA’s elimination of NAIS, pork producers’ support of premises identification remains vitally important to the industry,” says Paul Sundberg, National Pork Board’s vice president of science and technology. Already more than 90 percent of U.S. hog farms are identified through premises identification.

“Premises identification is the cornerstone of animal-health and disease surveillance,” Sundberg says. “It’s essential to supporting the rapid containment and eradication of potentially highly contagious diseases, and it will support appropriate continued movement and marketing of animals during disease outbreaks.”

Premises identification is currently a requirement of the industry’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus program. “It’s important that we maintain this voluntary cooperation,” Sundberg adds.

While a leader in animal identification and traceability, the pork industry remains vulnerable. There’s no predicting what consumer reaction would be to an animal disease emergency. A wary public or foreign customer may turn away from pork if a serious disease concern surfaced. The industry caught a glimpse of this with the Novel H1N1 2009 influenza outbreak. Export markets were the first and longest to close.

“Accessibility of global markets is key and often overlooked in the animal identification and traceability system,” says Scott Goltry, vice president of American Meat Institute’s food safety and inspection services. “AMI supports the development of a mandatory national animal identification and traceability system that would allow producers, processors and regulators to trace food animals to point of origin and date of birth.”

“With today’s number of hogs moving through U.S. packing plants, the current system doesn’t provide identity information once a hog is at the plant,” says Chris Novak, NPB chief executive officer. “But, moving forward, we have the potential to provide that level of traceability at an affordable price.”

Any way you look at it, there’s monumental work to be done. At this spring’s National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s annual meeting, USDA officials and animal agriculture representatives set priorities and discussed new strategies.

Beyond uniform ID standards that apply across all states, discussions focused on the ability for the system to move at the “speed-of-commerce,” and the availability of USDA funding for the effort. Minimizing producer costs and confidentiality continue to remain highly important to some.

While the pork industry has always supported a mandatory animal identification system, success for all is dependent on other species’ participation. That certainly won’t change moving forward.

Animal identification in herds of all sizes is important to the dairy industry, says Karen Jordan, DVM, Dairy Farmers of America. Jordan suggests that for the dairy sector, an effective system should be rapidly developed for a few key dairy states, which could then be rolled out to other states.

For the beef sector, minimizing producers’ costs remains a primary concern, according to Kelli Ludlum, American Farm Bureau Federation spokesperson. In addition, cattlemen “strongly believe that any information relative to cattle identification remain under the control of state animal-health officials and be kept confidential.”

To retain its leadership position in animal identification and traceability and keep disease risk to a minimum, the pork industry must continue working closely with state animal-health officials and USDA to develop uniform ID standards across states. Until a satisfactory system replaces NAIS, disease risk will continue for all.

Where Does Swine ID go from Here?

A significant step toward the success of animal traceability will be to establish performance standards that would apply to all states.

“For commerce to move smoothly, we need standardized animal identification and traceability approaches,” says John Clifford, DVM, USDA’s chief veterinary officer. “We certainly don’t want 50 separate standards out there.”

To develop animal ID and traceability standards for swine that can apply to each state and tribe, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is evaluating the activities and time requirements during a potential disease outbreak. For swine, those activities include the following:

  • Tracing an animal of interest to the last premises of residence prior to the animal’s slaughter.
  • The reporting by a swine production company or producer of all herds that had direct contact with the animal of interest.
  • Identifying herds at risk of exposure where surveillance may be needed.
  • Identifying any animals that left a production system to enter marketing channels other than directly to slaughter, during the timeframe appropriate for the disease and duration of infection in the herds involved.