The United States’ beef cattle industry’s recent past has been plagued by a lack of a national animal identification system. The lack of a national animal identification system has made it difficult, if not impossible, to track a diseased animal back to its farm of origin or determine what other cattle have been in contact with the diseased animal. In fact, during the investigation of the December 2003 Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease) outbreak, the lack of a national animal identification system meant that the United States was only able to locate twenty-eight of the eighty cows that entered the United States with the diseased cow.1 The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) attempted to fix this problem in 2004 with a voluntary national animal identification system (NAIS).2 When the NAIS proved to be unsuccessful, the USDA proposed a mandatory animal identification system in August 2011 referred to as the Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program. This article will analyze the new mandatory animal identification system in the context of the system that failed in the past.
The beef cattle industry in the United States is widespread, with a presence in every state, and includes a large number of individual farming operations. As of January 1, 2011, there were 30.9 million beef cows in the United States being raised on 742,000 farming operations. The majority of beef cattle operations in the United States would be classified as smaller operations. In fact, nearly one third of beef cattle operations have fewer than ten cows, with over half of all beef cattle operations having fewer than twenty cows, and almost 80% of beef cattle operations have less than fifty cows. Conversely, large operations account for just over 9% of all beef cow operations in the United States, yet these large operations produce over 54% of all beef cows in the United States. The vast majority of cattle operations have less than fifty cows. The small size of these operations and the increased cost in finishing calves for slaughter results in nearly 80% of calves being sold within sixty days of weaning. Most of these calves are shipped to large commercial feedlots where they are finished for slaughter. These statistics illustrate that in order for a nationwide animal identification system to be effective in the United States, it must be flexible enough for implementation by a wide array of beef cattle operations. The lack of a uniform, nationwide animal tracking program in the United States makes it difficult to estimate the number of cattle that are moved interstate in any given year. States do, however, track inshipments or the number of cattle that are shipped into the state during the year. It is important to note, however, that the inshipment tracking does not include cattle that are shipped into the state for immediate slaughter. In 2009, total in shipments recorded nearly twenty million head of cattle. Moreover, the USDA estimates that approximately ten million head of cattle are moved interstate directly to slaughter each year.Therefore, about 40% of cattle and calves sold in the United States each year are assumed to move interstate.
Until recently, the United States has taken a fairly laissez faire approach to animal identification in beef cattle. This article focuses on the history and evolution of animal identification systems in United States beef cattle. Part II of this article addresses recent events that precipitated the push for a national animal identification system. Next, Part III reviews the animal traceability component of the Brucellosis regulations, Part IV examines the National Animal Identification System, and Part V explains the recently proposed mandatory ADT regulations.
Kristy E. Boehler,
The Evolution of Animal Identification in Beef Cattle,
91 Neb. L. Rev.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol91/iss3/2