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USDA outlines next steps for advancing animal disease traceability

USDA recognizes that some livestock industry sectors have already invested much infrastructure into developing traceability programs.

As the National Institute for Animal Agriculture held its 2018 Strategy Forum on Livestock Traceability in Kansas City, Mo., to support the U.S. Department of Agriculture's animal disease traceability (ADT) program, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs Greg Ibach announced Sept. 25 from Washington, D.C., the agency's four overarching goals for advancing disease traceability to protect the long-term health, marketability and economic viability of the U.S. livestock industry. 

“The landscape surrounding animal disease traceability has changed dramatically in the past decade, and producers across the nation recognize that a comprehensive system is the best protection against a devastating disease outbreak like foot and mouth disease” Ibach said. “We have a responsibility to these producers and American agriculture as a whole to make animal disease traceability what it should be: a modern system that tracks animals from birth to slaughter using affordable technology that allows USDA to quickly trace sick and exposed animals to stop disease spread.”

USDA said its four overarching goals for increasing traceability are:

1. Advance the electronic sharing of data among federal and state animal health officials, veterinarians and the industry, including sharing basic ADT data with the federal animal health events repository;

2. Use electronic identification tags for animals requiring individual identification in order to make the transmission of data more efficient;

3. Enhance the ability to track animals from birth to slaughter through a system that allows tracked data points to be connected, and

4. Elevate the discussion with states and industry to work toward a system where animal health certificates are electronically transmitted from private veterinarians to state animal health officials.

These goals reflect the core themes resulting from a state and federal animal disease traceability working group that developed 14 key points for advancing traceability. They are also in keeping with feedback USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service received at stakeholder meetings held across the country to hear from the industry and producers directly, the agency said.

USDA said it recognizes that some sectors of the livestock industry have already invested a lot of infrastructure into developing traceability programs and noted that these new goals complement what those sectors are already doing and will help increase traceability across the entire industry. USDA said it is committed to continued discussion and collaboration to ensure that traceability efforts may be coordinated across the country.

While electronic identification is critical for advancing traceability, USDA said its important to emphasize that the agency will not dictate the use of a specific tag technology. Different industries prefer different tag types (e.g., low frequency versus ultra-high frequency), and choice will continue to be a cornerstone of USDA’s ADT program, giving producers the ability to decide what works best for their operations.

Not only will electronic identification allow animals to move more quickly through ports, markets and sales, but USDA said it will also help ensure rapid response when a disease event strikes.

To assist with the transition to electronic identification, USDA is ending the free metal tags program and instead is offering a cost-share for electronic tags. This is something stakeholders have repeatedly told USDA they need to help transition to electronic systems.

“Another key component of our plan is sharing a few key data elements from existing state and industry animal movement databases with our animal health events repository,” Ibach said. “That way, if an outbreak occurs, we can quickly find the information we need to locate and identify potentially diseased or at-risk animals. This helps avoid unnecessary quarantines that could impact producers’ livelihoods, and by linking to that information instead of housing it ourselves, we maintain our stakeholders’ privacy.”

Moving forward, USDA wants to continue to build on the current momentum around ADT and will begin implementing these goals starting in fiscal 2019. USDA said it will work with state partners and industry to establish appropriate benchmarks to meet to show progress. USDA will also ensure that all new traceability cooperative agreements will be contingent on measurable advancements toward these four goals.

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