If you are not familiar with USDA's efforts to launch a national animal identification program, you soon will be.

In a nutshell, the United States Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) “defines the standards and framework for implementing and maintaining a phased-in national animal identification system for the United States.”

The USAIP will enhance the U.S. livestock industry's ability to identify and track food animals and livestock exposed to disease and improve our chances of stopping its spread.

One only need recall the devastation caused by foot-and-mouth disease in England or the impact of diagnosing cattle with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in Canada and Washington State to recognize the need.

The USAIP goal is to develop a working system that allows for tracebacks to all premises that had direct contact with an animal with a foreign animal disease within 48 hours after discovery.

The 48-hour window is vital to provide producers and animal health officials with an infrastructure to control, eradicate and protect against animal disease outbreaks whether by accident or from deliberate attempts to introduce a disease.

A National Animal Identification Development Team formed by USDA's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service in January 2003 is shouldering the ongoing work of the USAIP. The team includes over 100 animal industry professionals and producers representing 70 associations, organizations and government agencies.

Each species has a working group. Mark Engle, National Pork Board director of swine health programs, chairs the pork group.

The goal is for each state Department of Agriculture to begin establishing “premises identification” in July 2004. A unique number will be attached to a record listing the type of premises, contact name, address and telephone number of the person in charge. Key information will be entered in a national database for disease traceback use only.

Each species group will design an identification system. The cattle, sheep and goat folks may utilize ear tags and/or radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies.

For pork producers, individual identification has been waived in lieu of group/lot identification, so long as producers are able to trace pigs to all premises with direct contacts of a suspect animal within 48 hours. Each group will have a unique, standardized ID number. Verifiable records will document premises ID and dates of movement. This is no big deal for pork producers because groups are normally tracked for production management purposes, providing detailed group movements within a system.

The Pork Industry Working Group for the USAIP is recommending a three-phase plan:

Phase I: Implement the National Premises Identification System

This will allow tracking of all hogs/pigs and breeding stock to their last premises (not necessarily last owner). All boars and gilts will likely receive ear tags with the premises ID number as they enter the herd.

To identify all hogs and pigs to their last premises, there are two options:

  1. Premises with market hogs will be issued a unique U.S. Premises ID number that can be printed in bar code format on adhesive labels or directly on “travel” documents that will accompany pigs to the packer/processor. The bar code links the group/lot tattoo number and owner to the premises ID, thus providing the link for traceback.

  2. Each pig can be tagged with an animal identification number, so long as the tag also provides the last premises information.

Target date: July 2004. Pilot test projects will be conducted.

Phase II: Group/Lot ID

USDA Rule 9CFR 71.19 provides for the interstate movement of groups/lots of pigs within a production system, providing specific production record requirements are met, written agreements with state animal health officials are on file, and regular veterinary inspections occur.

The Group/Lot ID includes a premises ID number, identifying the date and location a group was created.

Target date: July 2004.

Phase III: Tracking

The interstate movement of hogs/pigs/breeding animals will be reported through electronic issuance of Veterinary Inspection Interstate Health Certificates. Target date: July 2005.

By July 2006, the goal is to have electronic reports of intrastate, as well as interstate, movement of all pigs (except as provided by 9CFR 71.19).

Show pigs, the most commingled segment of the pork industry returning to the farm, may prove to be the biggest tracking challenge. Pig movements and show histories must be documented and available on request. Show managers must record premises identification on all entries. Terminal show pigs will be tattooed, linking entry information with show records.

For more information on the USAIP, log on to www.usaip.info. Also see proceedings from IDInfoExpo2004 posted at www.animalagriculture.org.