This is a group paper written over the pros and cons of animal identification. This topic has been a constant controversy between producers with recent legislation proposals in congress. Everyone has their own opinion on the issue, as for me I have mine but I will keep them to myself till later. Enjoy!
Records show that humans have been using individual animal identification methods for more than 3,800 years. Early records show hot iron branding was used as a means of identification on valuable animals like horses of the Greek, Chinese, and Teutonic nights. As early as the seventeenth century identification was important to disease monitoring by means of ink tattoos. Even as far back as the fourteenth century certificates of safety and origin accompanied animal products during outbreaks of disease. Animal identification, no matter its medium, can be defined as “the combination and linking of the identification and registration of an animal individually, with a unique identifier, or collectively by its epidemiological unit or group, with a unique group identifier” (Bowling, 2008).
Over the centuries, animal identification has used several mediums. Animal identification began in the United States with cattle ranchers during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Ranchers often used hot iron branding to indicate ownership. Beginning in the 1960’s, government agencies began using other methods to monitor movements and diseases. These mediums include ear tags, back tags, tattoos, and face brands. Recent methods of identification remain the same with some additional mediums; neck chains, tail tags, freeze brands, paint marks, and leg brands (APHIS, 2009a). One of the most pressing introductions to animal identification is electronic mediums, including injectable transponders, ear tags, and internal boluses (Rossing, 1999). These electronic identifications are changing the scope of animal identification in the 21st century. Despite the changes in types of identification mediums, the reasons for livestock identification remain the same: disease control, bio-security protection, identification for vaccinations and tests in disease eradication programs, official identification in commerce, identification of blood and tissue specimens, improvement of laboratory capabilities, health status certification, risk assessment, promoting marketability, and monitoring animal movement (APHIS, 2009a).
Virtually all livestock species and sectors of livestock industries use some sort of animal identification. Owners of livestock, both large and small operations, use identification methods for information management. Marketing agents use identification to track animals into and out of their possession. Animal breeders and breed associations, to track lineage and genetic information within breeds, use animal identification extensively. Industry feeders and finishers use lot identifications to track feed information, health records, and marketing information for cattle, hogs, and poultry. Harvesting and processing facilities use group identification to record marketing information for the industry and for the USDA records. Surprisingly, with all of these sectors using identification, there is no uniform system used within individual species.
Individual animal identification has taken front stage in the United States livestock industry with the introduction of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). The objective of NAIS is to have the ability to trace an animal or a group of animals to their source within forty-eight hours in the event of a disease outbreak. The ultimate goal of the program is to be able to track all premises and all animals that may have had contact with the affected animal (Gray, 2004). Components of the NAIS program include producer registration for premises identification numbers (PIN) and animal identification numbers (AIN). A set requirement for animal identification has not been established for the program. The Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provision from the 2002 Farm Bill is a program that will likely be complementary to NAIS. This program requires country of origin labeling of animal and food products. The aim of this program is aide in assurance of food safety and consumer information (Umberger, 2004). COOL became mandatory for processors and includes certain products effective September 30, 2008, although NAIS has not become a mandatory program for producers as of late.
There are also current regulations and identification systems within the livestock industries. Brucellosis in cattle has caused the industry to take actions in identifying animals with this disease and tracing them back to their owners in order to test the entire herd. Market Cattle Identification (MCI) is a system in which back tags are placed on the shoulders of all cattle and bison 2 years of age or older that are being marketed. Blood samples are taken and tested for brucellosis. If the animal tests positive for brucellosis, the back tag number traces it back to the herd of origin and the herd owner is then contacted by a State or Federal animal health official and the herd is tested. This system of identification is effective in locating infected herds and preventing the spread of this disease. However, this system does not suffice for an overall effective identification system because it is only limited to adult breeding animals that are being marketed (APHIS, 2007).
Within the swine industry, PIC Traq is one of the leading genetic databases, where individual swine identification is the primary incentive. PIC Traq is utilized to identify individual performance including carcass and meat quality characteristics, genetic markers, and commercial performance (PIC TRAQ, 2009). Data are collected daily through genetic nuclei from multiplier farms on every continent and are downloaded to a primary database. From statistical methodology or a program called BLUP (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction), PIC individuals can calculate EBV’s (Estimated Breeding Values), which in turn benefit genetic nuclei to increase genetic improvement within their sow herds. Electronically PIC Traq uses advanced technology benefits in extreme to identify optimal mating selections, quality AI semen collection, minimization of line breeding, and optimize genetic markers in each individual hog. Additionally, foreign markets and international trades are opened due to the advancement of the farrow to finish identification concept, which gives a history of the animal from producer to consumer. This history background of the animal identifies what the animal was fed, when and where vaccinations where given, and how and where the animal was housed. (PIC TRAQ, 2009)
The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) has many beneficial aspects and will affect structural changes in many livestock industries. However, the exact extent will not be certain until final plans are made to implement the program and the participation of the program is determined. Nevertheless, the effects of the NAIS on the market structure are great in areas of seedstock producers, stocker operations, and feeding operations. Seedstock producers will have the most beneficial gain from the identification system. The improved traceability and assurance provided by this system could help to strengthen the value of genetic lines that consumers are willing to pay extra to acquire. Stocker operations will benefit from the identification system once it has been in place for a period by lowering the costs of tagging cattle (Mark, 2004).
Along with market structural changes, a national animal identification system will encourage communication across all sectors of the livestock industries. A controlled animal identification system will enhance the efficacy of traceability of livestock during events that require shared information, such as an occurrence of a disease outbreak. Information about animal origins, movements, transfer of ownership, and health records must be accessible quickly. This will require a uniform identification method within each species and enhance communication among producers. This increased level of communication will lead to sharing of management practices, treatment methods, and marketing options. Sharing information will require government interaction with producers that will increase effectiveness of government policies that affect livestock industries. This increased communication among industry sectors will eventually benefit the efficiency of the livestock industry. Together these preceding issues show the positive aspects of a controlled animal identification system.
A controlled animal identification system would bring along negative impacts to the industries. Producers would face massive challenges if forced to implement animal identification in the cattle and sheep industries in western production systems. The topographical and geographical changes pose a big threat to a controlled identification system. With the changes in terrain in common grazing grounds, comes high installation and monitoring costs for boundary fences. Estimated costs to build a fence in mountain ranges of the west is close to $9,000 per mile compared to only $3,500 per mile in the southeastern part of the country. There is increased transmission of disease among livestock herds in these areas, not only from comingling herds from lack of boundary fences, but also from wild elk, horse, and cattle migration. There is frequent movement of livestock herds in this region. Between seasonal grazing grounds, herds may move 4,000 feet in elevation and several miles to forage supplies. Weather changes, such as drought, cause movement of herds from one ranch location to other locations that may be as far as 100 miles. Cooperative grazing practices are also common in western regions. These grazing co-ops often involve several members who commingle their herds for summer grazing periods. If enforced controlled identification in these systems must include provisions for multiple premise IDs per animal, multiple owners per animal, and multiple owners per premise. Because of the movement of these animals, “isolating disease outbreaks could become quite complex for some areas of the west” (Tronstad, 2004).
Another major concern with the National Animal Identification System is the cost and how it will affect the producers of all species. Cattle producers will suffer the greatest from the incorporation of this system. This identification system requires the purchasing of not only the ear tags, but also the technology that comes with it such as the panels and wand electronic readers as well as computers and software. At this point and time, the premise identification number registration is free; however, there is a possibility of costs that are related to time, mileage, and paperwork requirements. This possible fee could be a total up to $20 to register, yet many producers will need to renew their registration information as their operations change, which will increase the costs. (APHIS, 2009b) In every species there will have to be a different type of identification system implemented due to the diverse ways livestock are marketed.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (1992) implemented laws that take precautionary actions against swine brucellosis. One of the steps under this law requires that all animals be tested for this disease and upon testing animals need identification of some manner. Identifications for this test can include indication by ear notch, tattoos, or ear tags. The Nebraska Bureau suggests using ear tags. This identification system is beneficial in identifying which animals have been tested for this particular disease; however, this disease does not have any type of precautionary vaccination. So therefore, the mandatory identification system is not completely beneficial, nor cost efficient. With different types of identification systems present, there is no way to utilize this identification system effectively.
Program participation will be difficult for a controlled animal identification system. American ranchers tend to have a sense on independence from government agencies in how they manage their operations (Tronstad, 2004). Many producers are reluctant to participate in mandatory programs unless there is an obvious, direct guaranteed benefit for participation. “Participation in active disease programs has decreased as diseases have been eradicated” (USDA, 2007). For example, the cattle brucellosis eradication program requires that cattle be vaccinated and tagged with an official program tag and the information about these cattle be recorded. Because the disease is becoming less common and as more states become classified as brucellosis-free, annually less than 12% of cattle are vaccinated for brucellosis (USDA, 2007). A controlled animal identification system must include producer incentives to maintain participation in the program.
In the beef and dairy cattle industry, traceability can be difficult due to the widespread diversification and different sectors of the marketing chain. (USDA, 2007) Although, this can be argued as a reason to incorporate a national identification system, the costs outweigh the benefits in this situation. The costs estimated for RFID tags range from $2.00 to $2.60 per tag. (APHIS, 2009b) As stated earlier, other technologies will need to be purchased, also, facilities must be established in order to work these animals. Producers that already have tagging implemented in their programs will have fewer costs when it comes to facilities and labor. Many small producers (1-49 head of cattle) will be paying more for the RFID than larger producers will (5,000 head plus). This will greatly affect these small producers and possibly put them out of business. The information shown in Table 1 is the breakdown of the costs in the cattle industry for 100% participation (APHIS, 2009).
In the swine industry, costs are much lower for the identification system. Majority of swine move through the production chain as a group and are identified using a group identification number. This reduces the cost of ear tagging in swine. In addition, electronic reading will not be required in swine due to visual tag usage; however, there are still costs with reading and recording data. The information shown in Table 2 explains the cost of a national identification system for swine with 100% participation (APHIS, 2009b).
Sheep producers already have an identification system implemented due to the scrapie programs. This allows a high degree of traceability in the sheep industry. (USDA, 2007) The costs associated with a national identification system are for the reading and recording of tag information. The total cost would total $3,663,961 (APHIS, 2009b).
The poultry industry would have the least amount of cost when it comes to tagging; however, there are still costs with recording, reporting, and sorting data. With 100% participation from the producers, the total cost would total $9,112,856.
The horse industry will be even more complex in terms of longer life spans, higher values, and more frequent movement. (APHIS, 2009b) When in other species ear tags are used, the injection of microchips in horses will greatly increase the cost of implementing this system in the equine industry. The information shown in Table 3 explains the costs associated with identifying horses with microchips (APHIS, 2009b).
The costs associated with the implementation of large animal identification systems will force small operations to sell-out due to large industrial operations meeting consumer demands by identification systems more efficiently while gaining the premiums. This in turn leaves small operations with the ability to not feasibly turn a profit, and in conclusion will be required to shut down their operations.
A controlled animal identification system has its positive and negative aspects on livestock industries. Different methods of animal identification have existed for centuries, although the mediums used for identification have changed. In progressing livestock industries that are receiving more pressure for production information, producers and industry members can find reasons to support and argue against government regulated animal identification.
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