The federal Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program is up and running, but challenges including inconsistencies in state requirements and mixed messages regarding program goals continue to slow progress toward true traceability. Those points were clear during the recent National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) conference in Indianapolis where the NIAA Animal Identification and Information Systems Council received an update from USDA officials and others.

Neil Hammerschmidt, ADT program manager for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provided a program overview and update. The ADT rule was published in January 2013 and the rule became effective on March 11, 2013. Today the program continues to build on the original program guidelines, Hammerschmidt says.

The ADT rule specifies that several classes of cattle travelling in interstate commerce must be identified with official ID and accompanied by traceability documents acceptable to the shipping and receiving states. These include all sexually intact cattle and bison over 18 months of age, all female dairy cattle of any age, all dairy males (intact or castrated) born after March 11, 2013 and cattle and bison of any age used for rodeo, shows, exhibition and recreational events. Feeder cattle under 18 months of age, by far the most common class of cattle traveling across state lines, are currently exempt from the ADT rule.

March 11, 2015 marked the end of a 24-month phase-out period during which producers could continue to use various identification tags, such as those using a “900” numeric prefix, as official identification. As of that date, only tags beginning with the 840 prefix and using the program’s official Animal Identification Number (AIN) system and the U.S. shield will be in compliance with the program for non-exempt cattle moving across state lines. Others such as 900 tags remain acceptable only if the animal was tagged prior to March 11.

Currently, APHIS is engaged in assessing the effectiveness of the ADT system in tracing cattle in the case of an animal-disease outbreak. These assessments include several performance measures such as determining the ability and time it takes to determine the state and premises of origin for an animal based on its ID and shipping documentation

Early in the program, APHIS conducted 255 trace exercises on cattle shipped interstate to establish baseline performance data. In determining the premises of origin, the success rate was 77 percent, but at an average time of 264 hours – far longer than the program’s goal of 24-hour traceback.

APHIS now is running a news series of trace exercises using updated standards and a new software system. By this August, the agency plans to have new assessment data to compare with the baseline performance numbers.

As for enforcement of ADT requirements, APHIS initially focused on educating producers and markets when animals were out of compliance, and began phasing in enforcement procedures in March 2014. Enforcement focused on repeat offenders, and so far, APHIS has issued 1,015 letters of information and initiated 33 cases with its Investigative and Enforcement Services (IES).

Hammerschmidt also outlined a number of ongoing challenges including inconsistencies between states in terms of required documents for importing animals and lack of producer awareness of program requirements, such as that they need to obtain an official premises identification number (PIN) to purchase official program ID tags.

Jack Shere, DVM, associate deputy administrator for APHIS Veterinary Services also addressed some of the program’s challenges.  He indicated USDA administrators and Congress want to see faster progress in the program at the state level, and said USDA currently is implementing a review of the ADT program. A high percentage of states, he says, have fallen behind in updating their ADT plans or “road maps,’ which serve as the basis for cooperative agreements with APHIS.

Shere also pointed out that APHIS is under pressure from other government agencies and industry over the lack of a comprehensive farm-to-fork traceability system and its impact on trade. Most of our competitors for international meat exports have such a system, and use it as leverage against the United States in trade negotiations. Some critical import markets, including China, cite our lack of traceability in refusing imports of U.S. beef.

International trade falls outside the official goals of the ADT program, which was designed to help minimize and contain potential disease outbreaks. Many in the industry however, believe we need a more comprehensive traceability program to help ensure future competitiveness in international markets.

Shere says unnamed independent beef supply chains have approached USDA with proposals for pilot projects to demonstrate their birth-to-slaughter traceability systems, with the goal of gaining access to the Chinese market for their branded beef.