With the recent confirmation of a second case of mad cow disease in the United States, the USDA is accelerating efforts at implementing a National Animal Identification System.

USDA announced in late June that a second case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, was confirmed. An initial test in November indicated that the cow suffered from mad cow disease, but the USDA conducted two other tests to confirm the result. One test showed a negative result while another showed positive results.

Because the cow in question was unable to walk — referred to as a “downer” — it never entered the general food supply.

Beef leaders in at least one Southeast state is endorsing USDA's plan to implement a National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

The Alabama Farmers Federation State Beef Committee has issued a statement supporting USDA's plan, which would allow state and federal animal health officials to better manage disease surveillance and control programs. When fully implemented, the NAIS would utilize electronic identification methods to track and identify all animals and premises that have had contact with an animal disease of concern within 48 hours of an initial diagnosis.

“The Alabama Farmers Federation fully supports the NAIS strategic plan set forth by the USDA as the sole standardized disease surveillance and tracking system to be used by state and federal animal health officials. Furthermore, the Alabama Farmers Federation also supports the efforts of the private sector of the beef industry to utilize these standardized tracking devices to further enhance beef production practices,” according to the statement.

Federation Beef Director Perry Mobley says the plan will protect consumer and producers because it will allow USDA to quickly track exposed animals in the event of an agri-terrorism attack or disease outbreak.

“America has the safest food supply in the world. This plan strengthens our country's resolve to maintain and improve our food safety and animal health standards,” says Mobley. “We believe state and federal animal health officials are best equipped to implement this plan.”

Currently, livestock producers can voluntarily register their premises under the NAIS. If the USDA's plan is adopted, premises registration would become mandatory in 2008, and individual animal identification would become mandatory a year later.

As of June 1, approximately 800 livestock premises in Alabama had voluntarily enrolled in the NAIS.

USDA officials say they have been working for several years to develop a verifiable NAIS, and they are now accelerating efforts to implement the system “to ensure rapid disease containment and maximum protection of American poultry and livestock.”

The NAIS is being developed for all species that would benefit from rapid tracebacks in the event of a disease concern, according to USDA. Currently, working groups comprised and industry and government representatives are developing plans for cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, deer, elk, llamas and alpacas.

Already, many of these species can be identified through some sort of identification system, but these systems are not consistent across the United States.

The first step in implementing the NAIS, say USDA officials, is identifying and registering premises that house animals. Such premises include locations where livestock and poultry are managed, marketed, or exhibited. Knowing where animals are located, they say, is the key to efficient, accurate, and cost-effective epidemiological investigations and disease control efforts.

USDA anticipates that all states will have the capability to register premises according to national standards by 2005. Officials with APHIS currently are training state officials on how to use a standardized premises registration system. USDA also is evaluating alternative registration systems that states or others have developed and want to use, to insure that those meet the national standards.

As premises are registered, another component of NAIS — animal identification — will be integrated into the system. Unique Animal Identification Numbers (AINs) will be issued to individually identified premises. In the case of animals that move in groups through the production chain — such as swine and poultry — the group will be identified through a Group/Lot Identification Number.

USDA is developing the standards for collecting and reporting this information, but industry will determine which type of identification method works best for each species. These methods could include radio frequency identification tags, retinal scans, DNA, or others. As long as the necessary data is sent to USDA in a standardized form, it will be accepted.

If USDA decides to make all or parts of the NAIS mandatory, APHIS will follow the normal rule-making process, and the public will have the opportunity to comment on any proposed regulations.

To find out how to participate in premises identification in your state, contact your state veterinarian or go to http://www.usda.gov/nais.

e-mail: phollis@primediabusiness.com