SOME progress has been made, but more is needed on the issue of animal disease traceability (ADT), according to U.S. Department of Agriculture chief veterinarian Dr. John Clifford, deputy administrator of the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
Clifford told attendees at a forum in Denver, Colo., that the industry has moved forward considerably over the past decade but has not yet achieved its goal of two-day traceback in the case of an animal disease event.
"Have we made progress on disease traceability? Given the fact that we've finalized our ADT rule, clearly we have," Clifford said. "Have we achieved 48-hour traceability? Not even close."
The contrast in Clifford's candid remark illustrates the long and winding history of ADT, as well as the challenges that lie ahead.
Clifford pointed out that ADT dates back to the years before and immediately after the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the U.S. in December 2003.
"It's been 10 years since the 'cow that stole Christmas,' and that incident fueled a lot of our work toward a workable traceability system," he said. "It's noteworthy that we finalized our rule in the same year that OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) declared the U.S. as a 'negligible risk' for BSE."
His remarks came during a presentation to a joint animal disease traceability forum hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) and the U.S. Animal Health Assn. (USAHA). Clifford noted that for the first time in his many years of addressing the two organizations, he was able to broach the concept of implementation rather than discussing the ongoing development of a program.
When asked about USDA's intentions for enforcing the mandatory traceability rules, Clifford reiterated that USDA's initial focus for the next 12-18 months is on outreach and education. Industry participants must be on the same page before USDA focuses its attention on enforcement.
Under the final rule, which was published in January, livestock moved interstate must be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other accepted documentation. The rule was viewed by the industry as more flexible than previous efforts, creating a smaller burden on individual producers.
While the journey to a final ADT rule has ended, figuring out how to effectively implement the program is another story. Effective March 11, the burden of administering the rule's provisions — and answering questions about how to do that — has largely fallen on state and tribal animal health officials, meat processors and livestock producers, marketers and handlers.
More than 160 industry and regulatory leaders gathered in Denver for the NIAA and USAHA joint forum with the goal of "creating sensible solutions" for ADT.
"Animal disease traceability — or knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they've been and when — is extremely important to ensure a rapid response when an animal disease event takes place," USAHA president-elect Steve Crawford said. "An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps reduce the number of animals involved in an investigation, reduces the time needed to respond and decreases the cost to producers and the government."
Victor Velez with the California Department of Food & Agriculture's Animal Health & Food Safety Services and a co-chair of the NIAA/USAHA forum said stakeholders are sorting through a significant number of questions about compliance with the ADT final rule.
"We know we face bumps in the road to ensure the success of ADT, and this platform provided the opportunity to interact and learn from federal and state government and industry leaders," Velez explained. "One goal of the forum was to discover common ground and discuss ways collaboration can lead to 100% industry compliance of the ADT final rule. The dialogue was extremely robust, and definite inroads were made toward understanding the rule and moving forward with implementation."
With one federal standard in place, 50 states now have to find harmony in how they handle their responsibilities under the ADT rule.
Clifford said USDA knows that it will take time to reach the goal of full compliance.