Tracking livestock to prevent disease

St. PAUL, Minn. - Fresh food products whiz around the world in mere hours these days. It's great if you want Chilean grapes in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Or sushi when you live more than a thousand miles from the nearest ocean. But the global food trade also has risks. Plant and animal diseases now spread much more quickly. In response to devastating foreign livestock scares like hoof and mouth disease and mad cow disease, the U.S. has launched an ambitious nationwide plan to immediately contain possible outbreaks. To do that the government says it will have to electronically track all the movements of cows, goats, pigs and poultry in the U.S. The project is already underway in Minnesota.

The program is called the National Animal Identification System. For now, it's voluntary. But it could become mandatory within a few years.

This is how it works: anyone who owns livestock, even pet goats and llamas, will have to register the address of their farm property with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will then plot that property's coordinates in its database and assign it a unique number. The number is called a premises ID.

Once the premises has that number, the livestock there will also need numbers. So the government is asking livestock owners to buy special ear tags for their animals that have a 15-digit number embedded in them.

The tags emit a radio frequency that can be read with a scanning device. This is how the USDA hopes to track each animal's movements through its lifetime as it moves from farm to farm or to auction or slaughter.

The idea isn't new -- at least not elsewhere. Several countries, including Canada, have a similar system. In 2003, Canada's system was put to the test when BSE, also known as mad cow disease, was discovered just over the border in Washington state.

Source: Minnesota Public Radio
calendar icon 24 May 2005
clock icon 1 minute read
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