AT the risk of admitting that I'm an old guy, I'll ask the question anyway: Do you remember the Rubik's Cube craze? For the benefit of some younger readers, the game was originally popular during in the early 1980s and has made a comeback recently.
As some of you might recall, the cube consists of six faces, with nine stickers on each side. The goal was to twist and turn and ultimately align all of the stickers of like color (red, white, blue, orange, green and yellow). That was no easy task!
If you're like me, you probably worked and fiddled enough to get better, and as your ability progressed, it became a major accomplishment to align several sides.
Then, the goal would be to move on to finish an additional color. However, that seemingly always destroyed much of the work that was already done. To do it correctly, the sides needed to be solved simultaneously (the key word in all of this).
I was reminded of that experience while sitting through, and participating in, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture/U.S. Animal Health Assn. Joint Strategy Forum on ADT (animal disease traceability).
The meeting's primary intent was to discuss and develop solutions for some of the challenges that remain in the ADT rule's implementation process. In other words, try to work through the various facets where the real world doesn't mesh with the desired outcome.
The ultimate goal for ADT is to achieve 48-hour traceability for livestock in the U.S. The rule has advanced with some significant progress in terms of establishing the framework and general requirements of the program. However, lots of work remains ahead.
That reality was clearly articulated at the forum by Dr. John Clifford, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
The proverbial elephant in the room has to do with the beef industry (maybe it should be the cow in the room?). The beef sector has the largest footprint when considering the involvement of all states, the complexity of the marketing system and the general makeup of the producer segment.
With that in mind, there are several stumbling blocks on the way to fully functional implementation of the ADT rule.
First, let's begin with the form of identification. Should we use metal tags or electronic identification (EID)? If EID, then what type of technology should be utilized?
Sure, metal tags are inexpensive, but they introduce a whole host of deficits, including additional handwork and labor costs associated with recording, not to mention the subsequent issue of recordkeeping errors.
The better alternative to avoid those issues directs us to an EID-only type of system. However, producers balk at the costs associated with purchasing the tags, so that leaves us with no perfect alternative.
Second, there are key complications associated with the marketing system. Most notably, how does an auction market manage the hurdles of data recording coupled with the logistics of maintaining cattle flow through its system?
Let's face it, most markets aren't set up to handle cattle on both ends of the sale. However, varying interstate requirements will make that occur more often than not. And of course, the most important factor to consider is the need to maintain some semblance of a normal speed of commerce on sale day.
Last, this all brings some attention on state veterinarians. They're in a tough spot. Additional funding for the mandatory program is now on a state-by-state basis. In those states that won't get more funding, how can we ask state veterinarians to manage all of this (especially when it's not urgent), given all sorts of other pressing priorities that occur on a daily basis?
When it comes to ADT, lots of questions remain. Getting it all solved will require cooperative input from all sides (no pun intended). Unfortunately, it's like the Rubik's Cube: Solving one issue is easy; the real challenge comes when trying to solve them all.
Of course, the risk in trying to do that is that you may undo the very issue(s) you had solved in the first place. That's a scary proposition. However, the greatest risk of all is simply giving up on the twisting and turning; then, we all walk away with nothing solved.
*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.