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Agriculture Today

Will downer numbers rise as tagging begins?

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Wilson County News
July 11, 2012 | 3,887 views | 1 comment

SAN MARCOS -- Since the state animal health officials lifted the testing of cattle brucellosis at the auction barns, the number of downer cattle -- cattle that have difficulty standing -- has greatly declined. Now with the proposed animal disease traceability program -- requiring the tagging of all adult cattle -- this scenario could change.

Livestock associations have supported the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service animal identification version pertaining to the use of back tags for animals being sent directly to slaughter, but the amendment fell on deaf ears when it came to the state’s identification program.

Prior to the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas (ICA) annual convention in San Marcos June 20-22, the ICA distributed an email to its members, stating that the Texas Animal Health Commission adopted the traceability rules on June 6. The amendment the groups supported was not included in the final rules, however.

According to the June 15 ICA email, “Older cattle moving directly to slaughter need to avoid being placed in a chute and having a metal tag put in their ear. This practice would have eliminated many injuries, bruises, and additional stress placed on these cattle. Animal Disease Traceability would have been accomplished through the use of market back tags. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated by a majority vote of the TAHC [Texas Animal Health Commission] Commissioners.”

Last fall, cattlemen were given the chances to voice their concerns regarding the ID program. ICA Executive Director Bill Hyman addressed this concern in an Oct. 19 interview.

“Along with LMAT [Livestock Marketing Association of Texas], the adult cattle going to slaughter are the bulk of the adult cattle sale. They are identified with a USDA back tag,” Hyman said. “The proposed tagging rules written by USDA also support the use of back tags to identify adult cattle destined for slaughter, both inside the state and between states.”

During the ICA convention, the directors approved a proclamation June 21, seeking a change for the program that supports the use of market back tags. See “Resolution” for the ICA’s stance.

Cattlemen had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Dee Ellis, state veterinarian with the Texas Animal Health Commission, June 22. A couple of cattlemen questioned this regulation and the extra paperwork auction barns will have to retain, since the auction barn must keep a listing of the tag numbers distributed during each sale.

The questions are due to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Disease Traceability Program’s anticipated release in July or August. In the USDA version, auction barns must keep records for five years.

According to the Aug. 11, 2011, Federal Register, “This proposed rule would require that any ... person or entity who distributes official identification devices maintain for a minimum of 5 years a record of the names and addresses of anyone to whom the devices were distributed.”

Ellis said if an animal is properly tagged, then the animal need not be placed in a chute, and the state inspector will allow the animal to continue into the auction ring. If the animal does not have the required tag, then the animal must be tagged according to law.

Ellis explained that the reason for not allowing the use of back tags is due to heads at slaughter being unidentifiable, due to a lack of some sort of identification. In the event of a disease outbreak, the agency could not trace back the proper owner.

“We have a traceability problem in Texas,” Ellis said.

He said the agency is willing to work with the producers and auction barns to modify the rules.

Traceability or origin?

While the debate continues on the use of tags for animals to be sent directly to slaughter, another question relates to the language used in the rules.

According to the Texas Animal Health Commission literature, “If there is a need to trace a particular tag, animal health officials will contact the owner who received the tag series and ask for information on the animal to which the tag was applied.”

If one considers that the average steer in the United States now has eight owners during its lifetime, with the consumer being No. 8, will all former owners be contacted, since the Animal Health Commission will ask for data from the place where the tag was applied? If the rancher is not required to keep records, how will the rancher know which animal was sold with a certain number? Is this program to trace animals for disease, or a program to trace the origin of the animal (site where the initial animal was tagged)?

Time will tell if more paperwork will be required to address animal disease traceability, and at what cost to the producer.

Your Opinions and Comments

Patriots needed  
La Vernia  
July 13, 2012 2:56pm
It is a foregone conclusion about the additional paperwork for the producer. A rancher probably doesn't mind tagging the animals prior to sale as many already do that. But, when they get to be sold, I will guarantee that the ... More ›

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