USDA will implement a nationwide livestock identification program. The multi-species effort is still a work in progress, but several questions do need answers.

Who better to provide those answers than the chairman of the U.S. Animal Identification Plan’s Pork Industry Identification Working Group? Mark Engle, DVM, has filled that role for nearly three years. He’s been on staff with the National Pork Board for four years, and prior to that spent 19 years as a veterinarian in South Central Iowa. Add it all up and he’s had plenty of experience understanding pork producers’ needs.

Here’s his insight into where USDA’s National Animal Identification System stands today; what you can expect to unfold for the pork industry; and how it will impact you.

Pork: What’s the push behind USDA’s national animal ID program?

Engle: It’s an animal-health issue. The purpose is to be able to trace any animal in question back to its location, as well as monitor animals it came contact with. We’re really talking about trying to prevent a disaster by containing disease, not finding someone to blame. Animal ID will not prevent a foreign animal disease from entering the United States, but it will help us recover faster.

Pork: Why is a multi-species effort necessary?

Engle: We have certain diseases that cross species, so ID is an across-species issue, and tracking animal movements has to be valued by all species involved.

The program does need to be species specific. Species differ so much, not only in their production practices, but also in life span and diseases that are significant.

The pork industry has diseases with short incubation periods, so we’re looking at where pigs were three to four weeks ago.

Pork: Two efforts surface when talking about animal ID, what do producers need to know about these plans?

Engle:: The U.S. Animal Identification Plan started
almost three years ago, it represents a tremendous, voluntary industry/government effort. That has evolved into the National Animal Identification System.

Under USAIP, each species created a working group with industry participants representing all production facets. The pork industry-working group, for example, has provided USDA with program guidance and recommendations. The draft of NAIS’ Standards for Implementation has taken the pork industry-working group’s recommendations and has not changed a thing.

Pork: What are the pork industry-working group’s priorities?

Engle: The pork industry has had mandatory ID for 16 years, so our focus is to enhance those efforts. We’re trying to address three things: we need to identify market hogs back to the last premises; we needed to have better identification for cull sows and boars; the show-circuit and the ‘off-pig’ segments also need more effective ID systems.

Pork: Will NAIS require individual hog identification?

Engle: No, not for most market hogs. For hogs going directly to slaughter, we can track their movements and have traceability with group/lot identification.

So, from the time that pigs are weaned and declared a group, you will assign a group/lot ID number to them. Then maintain production records and record the group’s movement from premises to premises.

However, the working group’s recommendation is that once an animal leaves a production system and is co-mingled with others outside of the production system it needs individual identification.

Other hogs that will need individual identification will be ‘out-of-market hogs,’ purebred and show pigs, because of the amount of commingling.

Pork: What about breeding stock?

Engle: The current Code of Federal Regulations addresses replacement-breeding stock in interstate commerce. We have mandatory identification for those animals. We’ll apply those rules to breeding stock moved within a state. 

We have to do a better job of identifying cull sows and boars. Today, most cull breeding stock is identified using backtags, and the retention rate is not satisfactory. So, the working group recommended that cull animals have an ear tag and premises number when they leave the farm.

Pork: How will a premises be defined?

Engle: Identifying premises is the foundation of NAIS. We’re trying to identify any facility that houses livestock for any length of time. Based on NAIS, a premises is any site or location that from a health standpoint is epidemiologically distinct from another site. State animal-health officials in consultation with the producer will determine whether a site is distinct or not.

Pork: How should a producer classify his premises?

Engle: If we need to investigate an animal or group of animals, we’ll use the premises ID to go back to the site. If, for example, the animal is from barn A and there are five barns sitting 75 feet apart on that location — from an animal health standpoint, logically it’s one site and we’ll test all the pigs there.

My recommendation is if a site is more than 0.5 or 1 mile away, register it as a unique premises.

Pork: How and where will producers get their premises ID numbers?

Engle: Most states have premises ID numbers already in place, but they’ve never been standardized nationally. So all states will have to apply the new standard based on seven-digit premises ID numbers. The state animal-health association or state veterinary office will distribute new premises ID numbers.

Pork: How will the premises ID follow hogs through the marketing chain?

Engle: It will involve travel papers or movement certificates. For example, the plan is for every finishing site to have printed sticker labels with its seven-digit premises ID number and a corresponding bar code. When a load of pigs is shipped, you will place the premises sticker on the travel papers. When those pigs show up at market, the packer will scan the code and capture the premises ID for those animals. This would be very cost efficient.

Pork: What can producers expect in terms of recordkeeping demands?

Engle: The records that producers typically keep for financial and production management will suffice. For example: ‘This group of pigs were weaned on this date, put in this nursery on this date, moved to the finishing facility on this date and was marketed on these dates.’ Inventories will need to reconcile.

Pork: What is the prospect of a national database?

Engle: A national database, its privacy and security are other critical issues. Today, the data would fall under the Freedom of Information Act. There has been discussion that through a distributed system (multiple local databases that house the data) confidentiality can be resolved.

Pork: Is it wise for ID to be voluntary as proposed?

Engle: The pork industry believes it needs to be a mandatory ID system. If it’s voluntary and some people or states decide not to participate, it’s not going to be good for animal health in the event of a catastrophic disease.

Pork: What sort of timeline do you foresee for NAIS?

Engle: An ideal timeline would be that by the end of 2005 we have all of the swine premises identified. However, that’s an aggressive goal, and may be unrealistic due to funding issues. Overall, when you look at all species, the goal is to have premises identified by the end of 2006.

Pork: What advice would you offer producers?

Engle: My comment to pork producers is that you probably won’t see a lot of change in what you do. When it comes time to register your farm for a premises ID, get it registered. Keep production records, including animal movements, and maintain those locally. When the appropriate national system is in place, be prepared to report related animal movements to that system.