Over the past two months, Drovers has asked readers to submit their questions about the continuing development of the National Animal Identification System. Following are some of the questions we received and answers provided by two of the top authorities on NAIS.

We have not produced a BSE animal in the United States, so why do U.S. producers need to pay the price and give up privacy to implement an ID system?

Dr. Hillman: While BSE has not been diagnosed in an animal born in the United States, the disease has been diagnosed in the United States in a cow that was born in Canada. The National Animal Identification System has been developed to enable our country to effectively respond to a foreign animal disease, as well as to effectively conduct disease-control activities for other diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, pseudorabies, incursion of fever ticks or other diseases important to the health of the livestock herd of our country. BSE is only one of the diseases of concern. Our current animal-identification system, which is based on the brucellosis tag, has become very fragmented and ineffective. As states have achieved brucellosis-free status and the country approaches eradication of brucellosis, fewer and fewer animals are identified for brucellosis testing or brucellosis vaccination.

Producers in much of the country already have a permanent ID system—branding—that has worked successfully for decades. Why do we need something different?

Dr. Hillman: Identification of cattle, horses and some other species with brands is a tried-and-true mechanism to identify animals to an owner. However, few states apply brands to all livestock species. The National Animal Identification System is designed to be applicable to all livestock species. Those of us in the western United States have utilized brands and brand records extensively to aid in tracing animals for disease-control purposes. Brands and brand records are an excellent adjunct to animal-disease-control programs. While brands can be effectively utilized to determine ownership and origin of animals that are branded, brands are not as effective for tracing individual animals, which may be diseased or exposed to disease, through multiple movements, especially if the animals move to states that do not have effective brand programs. Unfortunately, less than half of our states have state brand programs. To complicate matters, brands are not unique in the United States. The same brand with the same location on an animal may be registered to different individuals in different states. Cattle that have been sold numerous times will have several brands on them. Which are important for the disease in question? Which is the brand of the original owner? While brand inspectors and animal-health officials may be able to unravel the trail of the animals over time, it often cannot be done rapidly as would be needed in the case of a highly contagious foreign animal disease.  

Who will be responsible for reporting animal movement?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: The conclusions of the species working groups are still being reviewed by USDA. (Species working groups—comprised of industry and government representatives—are helping draft NAIS program standards that livestock producers should follow.) The cattle working group has recommended that the reporting of animal movements be the responsibility of the receiving premises (or the person responsible for the animals at the receiving premises). However, the person who is holding the animal would be responsible for ensuring it is properly identified before one of the following events occur: the animal changes ownership, the animal moves interstate or the animal commingles with animals from other premises.

What is the recommended placement of the official ID tag and why?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: The cattle working group recommends that the tag be placed in the left ear and suggests that each tag company provide directions on how tags should be placed and applied. Attaching the official ID tag consistently in the left ear will help create more awareness that it is the official tag and not to be removed. Proper placement in the ear improves retention and the instructions from the tag manufacturer should be followed by producers when tagging their cattle.

Dr. Hillman: Placement in the left ear will not destroy the brucellosis tattoo of officially vaccinated female cattle. This is a change from current official identification devises, which are placed in the right ear. 

Will the national animal-ID program include live animals imported from Mexico, Can-ada and other countries?

Dr. Hillman: USDA currently requires identification for imported livestock. The recommendation of the cattle working group is to require all imported cattle to be identified with an RFID eartag before commingling with U.S. cattle.  

At this time, what should producers be doing to prepare for the implementation of the identification program?

Dr. Hillman: The first step producers can take is to acquire a premises-identification number for their operations. The premises-ID system is functional in approximately 21 states at this time and will be functional in all states by mid 2005. 

How is a premises defined, such as when a farm or ranch has a primary farm or home place and several other distinct locations in which livestock are reared?  

Mr. Hammerschmidt: A premises is defined as a location where animals are raised, held or boarded. Sometimes, a livestock production enterprise contains multiple locations. Some of the locations are permanent facilities such as feedlots, permanent pastures with animal-handling facilities, breeding farms or nurseries. Other sites are used only on a temporary basis such as stalk fields, wheat pastures and public lands for grazing purposes. In the event of a disease outbreak, premises that are epidemiologically linked with the source herd or flock will need to be found. As these premises are identified and located on a map, a “picture” of the outbreak is generated. The more premises that are identified prior to the outbreak, the quicker the size and scope of the outbreak can be estimated, the quicker adequate resources can be determined, the quicker the disease will be contained and the less economic impact the outbreak will have.  

Ideally, each distinct location would be identified with a unique premises number. At a minimum, the “home place” in which animals are raised needs to be registered for the operator to obtain a unique premises-identification number. Additional locations are not required to be registered at this time, although it is highly encouraged.

When can I get a premises ID for my ranch and how do I go about it?

Mr. Hammerschmidt: Each state is responsible for registering premises and assigning them nationally unique premises-ID numbers. Contact your state department of agriculture or your state veterinarian for more information about how to get a premises-identification number and to find out when this service will be available to you. A full list of state contacts is available at www.usda.gov/nais under the “Contact your state or tribe” box.

What will be the procedure for documenting animal movement where ownership does not change, such as transporting heifers for ultrasound evaluation or carrying show animals to shows in several states?

Mr. Hammerschmidt:The cattle working group suggests that three basic events will trigger the need for reporting animal movements: change of ownership, interstate movement, and multiple owners commingling their animals.  Each exhibition will have a premises identification number, and they will report the AIN of all animals that arrive at that premises and the date of their arrival. 

There are essentially four pieces of information required to document an animal movement event: 1. The animal identification number, AIN; 2. The premises identification number of the location where the event takes place; 3. The date of the event; and 4. The event type (movement in, movement out, sighting of an animal at a location, termination of the animal, etc).

If an entity reports the movement event on behalf of a producer, that entity will need a non-producer participant number and will report that number along with the other four pieces of information.